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Early travel bans may have eased virus outbreak

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Denmark, one of the countries that imposed an early travel ban, will reopen schools and day care centres next week in a phased relaxation of its lockdown measures.

With the debate still raging over the effectiveness of closing borders, a number of countries which did so early in the coronavirus crisis are seeing lower casualties.

The Danish government ordered closures of hospitality and leisure facilities when the lockdown began, and shut all borders to most foreigners.

The Scandinavian country has suffered 237 fatalities among more than 5,000 cases of coronavirus and says the numbers have stabilised.

Prime Minister, Mette Frederiksen said the government was hoping for a “gradual, controlled and quiet reopening of Denmark” and that the country “must take one cautious step at a time” to avoid a return of the virus.

Bars, restaurants and shopping centres will remain closed and bans on public gatherings of more than 10 people will stay in place for at least another month.

New Zealand has imposed some of the toughest restrictions on travel and has reported just four deaths since 18 March when the prime minister announced that all non-residents and non-citizens were banned from entering the country. 

All new arrivals into New Zealand were ordered into self-isolation, while cruise ships are banned from visiting until 30 June. The government said all citizens returning home will be kept in an “approved facility” for 14 days.

In Australia, a ban on foreign nationals entering from China was imposed only six days after Australia reported its first case, which was on 25 January.

Australia’s self-isolation restrictions were extended to those returning from Iran on 29 February, South Korea on 5 March and Italy on 11 March.  It has recorded 56 deaths.

Evacuees from Wuhan were kept off the Australian mainland altogether and ordered to spend their two-week quarantine on Christmas Island. 

By contrast, UK airports continued to allow people to arrive from hotspots such as Italy without health checks.  Cases continue to soar in the UK. Scotland, with a similar population to Denmark and New Zealand, has reported more than twice as many deaths as the former (542), although case numbers are similar (5,590).

Some countries have openly questioned the need for travel bans. The European Union rejected the idea of suspending the Schengen free travel zone.

The European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said that “Certain controls may be justified, but general travel bans are not seen as being the most effective by the World Health Organisation.”

The United States suspended travel from the Schengen Area and later the Common Travel Area, a move that was criticised by EU leaders.

Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro has challenged the restrictions, saying they needlessly harm the economy.

However, Brazil has become the first country in the southern hemisphere to surpass 1,000 deaths with coronavirus.

Where travel in the UK and EU has fallen it has done so in response to general lockdown restrictions and a fall in customer demand.

Globally, passenger flights have decreased by up to 95% and many airlines are in financial crisis. Estimates by the International Air Transport Association suggest that only 30 of more than 700 airlines will survive the next few months without government intervention.

Travel industry body ABTA has called for the UK government to follow other countries and allow holiday companies to issue refund credit notes instead of cash refunds for cancelled holidays caused by the virus.

This would allow customers to rebook and haver the protection of ABTA or ATOL until the end of July at which point, if the credit has not been used, a customer can get a cash refund.

Customers will get their money back if they cannot use the credit or if the travel company collapses, while it would help travel companies to stay afloat as they work through the large number of cancellations.

Spain’s lockdown is continuing until at least 26 April, with another extension expected until 10 May, but a two-week temporary ban on ‘non-essential workers’ has now been lifted. They will be returning to work on Monday which is not a public holiday in Spain.

Austria has set out plans for smaller shops to re-open on Tuesday and larger ones on 1 May. Germany may re-open schools on a region-by-region basis and allow a limited number of people into restaurants if the infection rate stays sufficiently low.

Italy, which has been under lockdown longer than any other European country, is looking at issuing more masks and carrying out more tests as the country learns to “live with the virus”.

It has extended its lockdown until the beginning of May.  

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