The first foreign tourists may have landed in locked-down Spain and Greece, but as a third wave of the pandemic accelerates across the EU, few Europeans will be enjoying an Easter break abroad – or even away from home.
German holidaymakers began arriving on Crete on Monday, with six half-empty flights landing at Heraklion airport after the tourist minister, Haris Theoharis, said some visitors could be permitted before the country’s planned reopening on 14 May.
Several thousand Germans were also expected in Spain’s Balearic islands for Easter after Berlin announced that Mallorca was no longer considered a high-risk area. Travel company Tui also announced there was “significantly more interest” in Mediterranean breaks.
Although welcomed by the Covid-ravaged tourism industry, the arrivals have caused resentment among some locals who remain subject to travel bans. Spaniards may leave their own region only for essential reasons, including over Easter, while most Greeks are confined to their municipality.
With cases continuing to rise across Europe, governments are still advising against non-essential foreign travel. German officials have urged people to stay at home at Easter and on Tuesday toughened land border checks to match those at airports.
Authorities in Greece and Spain have also stressed foreign visitors will be subject to the same rules as locals, and foreign holidaymakers in both countries must show a negative polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test before arriving, and another before boarding their plane home.
In Greece, restaurants, cafes and non-essential shops remain closed and no one may leave home without a valid reason approved by text message. On the Balearic islands, including Mallorca, bars and restaurants must close at 5pm and a night-time curfew applies from 10pm. Groups at bars and restaurants are limited to four people.
Conditions are less strict in Madrid, where foreign tourists can fly in with a negative test but residents may not leave the region until 9 April. Bars and restaurants are open in the Spanish capital and its curfew starts at 11pm.
Pictures of drunken foreign – often French – revellers have caused outrage in Spain, while Madrid police broke up 353 illegal parties, mainly in rented Airbnb flats, over the weekend. The raids were mostly sparked by complaints from neighbours.
The uptick in tourism comes even as the pandemic, fuelled by the more contagious B117 variant first detected in Britain, continues to gather pace. Spain’s health emergency chief, Fernando Simon, said the country was “in a phase of expansion” in terms of infections and the trend was likely to continue.
Italy is set to announce a five-day quarantine on travellers arriving from other EU countries, both residents and foreigners. Much of the country has been under tough restrictions in recent weeks, meaning residents must stay in their local area, and the whole country is due to go into lockdown over the three-day Easter weekend starting on Saturday.
All non-essential shops, bars and restaurants will close unless providing takeout services, but people can walk or exercise close to home, and a maximum of two guests may visit another household within their town no more than once a day.
The new foreign travel restriction will require anyone arriving from an EU country to show a negative test before departing for Italy, and a second after five days of self-isolation, with only cases of “proven necessity and urgency” exempt.
Highlighting the contradictions of Europe’s haphazard travel rules, it appeared aimed as much at limiting the number of Italians seeking an overseas break, since current mobility restrictions do not include trips to the airport.
“I can’t leave my municipality, but I can fly off to the Canary Islands – it’s absurd,” Bernabo Bocca, head of the federation of Italian hoteliers, said, adding that his members felt “mocked – 85% of us are forced to stay closed. Meanwhile, we are gifting tourists abroad.”
In Germany, Angela Merkel is coming under growing criticism for failing to spell out a detailed plan to reverse rapidly rising coronavirus infections, which health officials warn could jump to 100,000 a day from 20,000 now.
The chancellor, who last week dramatically reversed a plan to close churches and shops over a five-day period at Easter, is running into opposition from the leaders of the country’s 16 federal states to plans for a tougher lockdown if infections surge.
One leading economist, Clemens Fuest of the IFO economic institute, accused her of dithering and called for a tought two-week lockdown. “In a situation like this you cannot say, ‘let us wait another 10 days’,” he said. “The Easter holiday is a chance to do something. It’s incomprehensible to let it slip.”
In France, restrictive measures are only half as successful at keeping people home as France’s first full lockdown, Google data showed, and experts are increasingly warning tough new steps will be needed to stop hospitals being over-run.
President Emmanuel Macron, who has repeatedly sought to avoid another full lockdown, is widely expected to decide on Wednesday – and announce on Thursday – whether closing schools and prohibiting people from leaving their home other than for essential reasons has again become necessary.
The government closed some non-essential stores and barred people from travelling 10km (6 miles) from home in some regions, adding to a nationwide curfew. But hospitals are reaching breaking point, with more Covid-19 patients in intensive care units in Paris than at the peak of the second wave in November, and critical care wards at 140% of capacity.