The detection of a new variant of the coronavirus has countries changing rules and adding lockdowns, making it even more difficult to plan a visit to the continent. Here’s what we know about the latest restrictions.
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It was supposed to be the great comeback of Europe’s winter travel season, with the aromas of sizzling sausages and mulled wine wafting through bright Christmas markets, skiers gliding down snowy Alpine slopes and opera performances welcoming in-person audiences in grand theaters.
But then came a deadly fourth wave of coronavirus cases and an alarming new variant called Omicron, triggering border closures, curfews and lockdowns in several European countries (and in Austria, a vaccine mandate for most of the country’s population). On Monday, the World Health Organization warned that global risks posed by the variant were “very high,” though Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, a top adviser to President Biden, said it could take two weeks or longer before more information is available.
First detected in Botswana and then identified in South Africa, the Omicron variant had by Monday been found in the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic.
Health authorities in the Netherlands said on Sunday that among 61 people who tested positive for the coronavirus, air passengers who arrived on two flights from South Africa on Friday, 13 cases of the Omicron variant had been identified.
Despite the concerns, violent protests against coronavirus-related restrictions broke out across Europe for a second weekend in a row, with tens of thousands of demonstrators arguing that the lockdowns and vaccination requirements are infringements upon their basic freedoms.
Many Christmas markets are canceled, some winter resorts are closed and performance halls are shuttered. The fast-changing landscape has once again made it difficult to plan travel to Europe. Here’s what we know about the latest restrictions.
It depends on where you plan to travel. While the European Union has published general guidelines for travel into the bloc, each of the 27 member states sets its own entry requirements.
Most European countries allow vaccinated Americans to visit, but some — like Austria — have reintroduced restrictions on nonessential travel. After the Omicron variant was identified last week, several E.U. member states and Britain banned flights from countries where cases of the new variant have been identified or reinstated quarantine requirements for travelers.
The Times keeps an updated list of countries where Americans can currently visit with details of specific entry rules.
Through guidelines and warnings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the State Department, the United States has advised against travel to some European countries, including Austria, Germany, Denmark, Belgium, Greece, Norway, Ireland and the Czech Republic.
Austria has taken the hardest line so far, becoming the first Western country to reimpose a full nationwide lockdown, allowing people to leave their homes only to go to work or buy essential items like groceries and medicine.
The shutdown will last at least 10 days and could be extended until Dec. 13, the Austrian government said. During this period, leisure travel to Austria is banned and tourist attractions, including Christmas markets, museums and theaters, are closed. Tourists already in the country who are unable to rearrange their flights home will be permitted to stay in hotels but must comply with lockdown rules.
On Saturday, Britain announced that it would require all visitors to take a PCR test by the end of their second day after arrival and self-isolate until they receive a negative test. Also on Saturday, the Swiss government announced a 10-day quarantine requirement for arrivals from Britain after cases of the new variant were identified there.
Germany has identified two cases of the new variant and is grappling to contain a fourth wave of the virus. The government has indicated that lockdowns could be a possibility, even for those who are vaccinated. Christmas markets have been canceled in Saxony and Bavaria, bars and clubs are closed, and restaurants are operating with reduced hours.
The Czech Republic and Slovakia, which have recorded some of the highest infection rates in Europe, have banned unvaccinated people from restaurants, hotels, bars and hairdressers, even if they have a negative coronavirus test.
The Netherlands returned to a partial lockdown on Nov. 13 for at least three weeks, with restaurants and shops closing early and spectators banned from sporting events. The Dutch government is exploring ways to restrict unvaccinated people from indoor venues, a measure that has spurred riots and protests across the country. On Saturday, the Swiss government announced a 10-day quarantine requirement for arrivals from Britain after cases of the new variant were identified there.
Ireland also reimposed curfews this week, requiring bars and clubs to close at midnight.
Most European countries do not require a booster for entry, but some nations have set vaccine “expiration dates” for travelers.
Croatia, Austria and Switzerland all require second vaccine doses or booster shots to have been administered within a year of entering the country. In Austria, the validity period of the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine is 270 days, or around nine months.
Starting Dec. 15, the French government will require all people 65 and older who are seeking to access indoor venues like restaurants, museums and theaters to receive a booster shot six months and five weeks after their second dose, or undergo regular testing.
Last week, the European Commission recommended a nine-month time limit for the validity of Covid-19 vaccinations for travel into and within the E.U.
Most European countries accept the C.D.C.’s white paper vaccination card and other digital health certificates used in the United States like The Smart Health Card or Healthpass by Clear.
Some places like Switzerland and Belgium require tourists to apply for local health passes to access indoor venues like restaurants and museums. In Switzerland, all visitors must apply for the pass before arrival, and processing time can take up to seven days. Belgium requires tourists over the age of 16 to apply for a “Covid Safe Ticket” to enter cultural venues and bars and restaurants.
In other destinations like France, local digital passes are optional for international visitors and can be obtained from some local pharmacies.
While Austria has shut down ski resorts for the duration of its lockdown, ski season across the rest of Europe is underway — though the new variant has raised fresh concerns.
Last week, ski resorts in France and Italy reopened, with all skiers over the age of 12 required to show proof of vaccination, recovery from a Covid-19 infection or a negative coronavirus test to access ski lifts. (At the onset of the pandemic, many popular ski destinations, like Ischgl in Austria, became virus hot spots as they brought together large groups in confined spaces like ski lifts, chalets and restaurants.)
Before the new variant was identified, Switzerland had also opened its slopes for the season, while requiring visitors to present coronavirus health certificates for resort bars and restaurants. The quarantine for travelers from Britain may put a damper on the season, as they make up a large portion of winter visitors.
There are currently no restrictions on travelers transiting through European airports to other countries. During Austria’s lockdown, passengers in transit through the country are not allowed to leave the airport area.
Major protests erupted across Europe over the past two weekends in response to the return of Covid-19 restrictions. Tens of thousands of demonstrators marched in European cities like Vienna, Amsterdam, Brussels and Rome and clashed with police.
The protests turned particularly violent in the Dutch city of Rotterdam, with large groups throwing rocks and fireworks at officers, prompting the police to respond with gunfire. In Brussels, police fired tear gas and water cannons to disperse crowds.
Sporadic, small-scale protests continued into the week. It’s best to check local news sites for any planned protests before venturing out.
We asked readers to tell us about the spots that have delighted, inspired and comforted them in a dark year. Here, 52 of the more than 2,000 suggestions we received, to remind us that the world still awaits.
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Omicron: With the new Covid variant’s arrival, we answered 12 pressing questions about traveling safely this holiday season. Still not sure what to do? Experts weigh in on how to make the decision to cancel your plans and whether you should buy travel insurance.
Flying Overseas: These countries currently allow U.S. citizens to visit, though there may be vaccine requirements and other restrictions to enter.
Traveling From Overseas: All travelers flying into the U.S. are required to present a negative result from a test taken within one day of their flight departure. Foreign air passengers will also need to show proof of full vaccination. Most foreign travelers entering at land borders with Mexico and Canada will also need to be fully vaccinated.
It’s All About Tests and Vaccinations: Here’s how you can find a test in Europe, what vaccinations are accepted in the U.S., and a guide to keeping your vaccination card safe.
Flying Within the U.S.: You don’t need a coronavirus test or a vaccination card to fly domestically. But rules are ever changing and masks are required until mid-March. Oh, and here are six ways to deal with airline cancellations and delays.