British tourists set to face Europe’s Covid-19 travel ban from January 2021

Tourists from the UK look set to be included in the EU's ban on non-essential travel after the end of the Brexit transition period on December 31st, unless the European Council decides otherwise.

British tourists set to face Europe's Covid-19 travel ban from January 2021
Photo: AFP

At present the EU's external borders are closed to non-essential travel for all countries apart from those on the short list of 'safe' countries, which includes Australia.

So, for example Americans have not been able to have holidays in Italy or visit family in France since March, and there seems little sign that this will change in the near future.

Travel within Europe, however, is allowed for any reason – taking into account individual countries' lockdowns and rules on quarantine/testing for new arrivals.

The European Commission currently says that travel is allowed for any reason between EU and Schengen zone countries.

At present that includes the UK, but once the Brexit transition period ends on December 31st, the UK will become a 'third country', not part of the EU or the Schengen zone.

The Local asked the Commission last month what that means for people travelling from the UK after January 1st and we were told that no decision has been taken yet.

The final decision is for the European Council to make.

A Commission spokesman said: “The current Council recommendation on the temporary restriction on non-essential travel into the EU and the possible lifting of such restriction is applicable to the United Kingdom during the transition period established until 31st December, 2020 on the basis of the Agreement on the withdrawal of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland from the European Union and the European Atomic Energy Community.

“At the end of the transition period, the Council will have to consider the addition of the United Kingdom to the list of third countries exempted from travel restrictions.

“This is a decision for the Council to make.”

On December 14th a source at the European Council told The Local a decision was set to be made on the new “safe list” “in the coming week” but no exact date was given.

It may all depend on the ongoing Brexit talks between the UK and the EU.

The source added: “I can therefore not confirm at this stage what the status of a country will be on 1 January. The review and updates to the list take place following an overall assessment based on the criteria included in the recommendation.”

In theory EU states can override the Council's decision and decide to allow in British holidaymakers after January.

A UK government spokesperson said: “We cannot comment on decisions that could be taken by other states on public health.”

The EU's rules on essential travel say that people from outside Europe can enter the bloc for the following reasons;

  • Citizens of an EU country
  • Non EU citizens who are permanent residents of an EU country and need to come home
  • Healthcare workers engaged in crucial work on the coronavirus crisis
  • Frontier workers and in some circumstances seasonal workers
  • Delivery drivers
  • Diplomats, humanitarian or aid workers
  • Passengers in transit
  • Passengers travelling for imperative family reasons
  • Persons in need of international protection or for other humanitarian reasons
  • Third country nationals travelling for the purpose of study
  • Highly qualified third-country workers IF their employment is essential from an economic perspective and cannot be postponed or performed abroad

Find more details on the exemptions here.

The rules are based on the country you are travelling from, not the passport you hold.

Anyone who is a permanent resident in an EU country is allowed to return to it – so for example any EU residents travelling to the UK for Christmas will be able to return home after January 1st, regardless of what decision the Council makes on the UK's status.


Member comments

  1. So the obvious loophole would be to fly from the UK into Switzerland, then you’d be free to leave Switzerland and travel within the Schengen area (and therefore, most of the EU).

    “The European Commission currently says that travel is allowed for any reason between EU and Schengen zone countries.”

  2. Apart from the fact that airlines cancelled their flights from and to Geneva when we tried to do that 2 weeks ago when we needed to return to the U.K. for exceptional resulting in a hell of a drive from Provence to Bristol and back over 4 days….

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‘Demand we’ve never seen’: Why are trains so popular in Sweden right now?

There's high demand on train tickets in Sweden at the moment, especially on long-distance routes like the Malmö-Stockholm line. Why are they so busy, and when will it be easier to travel by train?

'Demand we've never seen': Why are trains so popular in Sweden right now?

“There are a lot of people who want to travel by train,” press communications officer Jonas Olsson from state-owned train company SJ told The Local.

“We saw that after restrictions opened up, there was a demand we’ve never seen before.”

Olsson said that the train company are not sure why demand has increased, but said it was “really great” that demand is so high.

“We’re not sure what the reason is,” he said.

“It could be an increase in interest after the pandemic, it could be the sustainablility aspect, we’ve not really got to the bottom of it.”

Swedes have for a number of years shown interest in more environmentally-friendly modes of transport, with the term flygskam or “flight shame”, a feeling of guilt over the environmental impacts of flying, first gaining popularity in 2018.

Flight chaos hitting Europe’s airports this summer has also had a possible positive effect on train bookings in Sweden this year, as more travellers choose to avoid the queues and travel by train.

Why don’t train companies just put more trains in service?

Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.

“It’s not that easy to just put more trains on the line,” Olsson said.

“Planning trains takes a long time. We have to apply for a permit from the Transport Agency, so we work on a year-long cycle.”

“We’ve also had a difficult summer with regard to our staff situation,” he said, referring to train driver shortages which have plagued the company in recent months.

“So, for a number of reasons, we haven’t been able to have as many trains running as we would like.”

Olsson does not believe that this high demand is going to drop any time soon, despite the fact that most Swedes are now back to work after their summer holidays.

“We think it’s probably going to be the opposite, that demand will keep increasing,” he said.

“So, I don’t think there will be more tickets in the future.”

SJ are taking measures to meet this high demand, he said, despite the company having to plan a year in advance.

“We’ve said we’re going to hire a thousand more staff this year, and that’s because we want more train drivers and more onboard staff so we can put more trains on our routes.”

How can I get hold of a train ticket if I want to travel?

Despite high demand, it’s not impossible to get hold of tickets, even on high-pressure routes like the Malmö to Stockholm line.

“There are still tickets available, if you plan a little bit in advance you can still get tickets,” Olsson said.

“So they’re not completely sold out all the time, but you should keep that in mind – if you’re travelling by train on this route, you should try and plan in advance if you want to get hold of the cheaper tickets.”

“Our ticket model is formed in a way that we have tickets released at short notice – last minute tickets,” Olsson explained.

“The closer you get to departure, the more expensive they get. You can travel today or tomorrow, but then you’ll be paying a lot more so close to departure.”

“There’s really high demand. It’s really great, truly.”

Is there high demand on other routes, or is it just affecting the Malmö-Stockholm line?

“Stockholm to Malmö is one of our major routes,” Olsson said, “so obviously there are a lot of people travelling there and a lot of demand there.”

“There’s more demand on Stockholm-Malmö than, for example, Stockholm-Gothenburg, but we’re seeing more people travelling across the whole network, on all our routes, really.”

Demand for international train travel has also gone up, again possibly as a result of flight cancellations and queues at Europe’s airports.

“We opened a new route in autumn which goes from Stockholm to Hamburg, that also goes through Malmö, it’s a night train going through Europe,” Olsson said.

“We’ve seen a lot of people wanting to take that route. People really want to travel by train, which is really great.”