Travel restarts: Europe opens borders, we wait..

Europe opens borders!

While Australia and New Zealand wait for governments to make decisions, in Europe even countries hit hard by the virus like Spain and Italy, as well as those hit less hard (and/or who were more organised to fight it), like Austria, Greece and Switzerland, are opening their borders again, and encouraging international tourism to fire up.

Winter view of Innsbruck
Austria opens its borders on June 15; Innsbruck is back on the menu! © Christof Lackner Innsbruck-Tourismus

Downunder even the Trans-Tasman bubble seems to be all too hard at the moment for Australia and New Zealand to sort out – the latest hurdle the confusion over domestic travel bans within Australia as South Australia, Tasmania, Queensland and Western Australia maintain their bans. The Tasmanian premier even canvassed flights to New Zealand ahead of re-opening internal travel. The ACT and Wellington have a proposal for flights between them too.

The Trans-Tasman Safe Border Group uniting some 40 experts from both countries has put a series of recommendations to the two governments for implementing a safe air corridor between Australia and New Zealand.

All of the above remain under consideration. Nearly 5 months after flight bans started you might think the groundwork and protocols could and should have been worked in readiness, and whatever work neccesary done to modify airport arrivals/departures etc as a priority while traffic was almost zero. So that as soon as contol of the virus allowed, the go button could be pressed. And we could go skiing at Mt Hutt, which opened today.

First lift at Mt Hutt 2020 ski season
First lift Mt Hutt for 2020 © Jeremy Black / nzski.com

You didn’t have to be Nostradamus to figure out it would have to be done – we pointed out nearly 3 months ago with our “The next Day – so what do we do after the virus peaks feature?”

Yet here we are, waiting. Businesses from airlines to shops to tourism operators across the spectrum are suffering, and of course their employees too. Government’s are bleeding from the bail out funds required.

The idea that Australia and New Zealand as islands can somehow cut themselves off from the World indefinitely is ridiculous.

Ships and cargo planes come and go all the time and have been throughout the crisis. Contacts happen.

If there is little or no community transmission then there will be no adverse affects from resuming travel between countries with similar levels of infection and measures in place for tracing / testing and border/airport controls. Temperature testing has been standard across much of Asia throughout the crisis, helping diverse countries from Taiwan to Thailand keep their case numbers low.

Taiwan never shut down their economy either, yet have the best record in the developed World of COVID-19 control. As we have mentioned, The simplest measure of how effective containment and response is has to be deaths per capita (source Worldometers*) which gives an overall picture. For countries where the stats are believable, for Taiwan it’s 0.2, for Australia and New Zealand it’s 4, Japan 6.

Meanwhile far worse hit Europe fires up. Austria is a standout there, with plans to re-open flights and borders from June 15.

They have been running the World’s first airport testing program at Vienna Airport which offers the possibility to undergo molecular-biological COVID-19-Tests (PCR test) directly on site. Test findings are available within a period of about three hours. It’s necessary to arrange an appointment, the service costs EUR 190. If you test negative, you do not have to stay in the otherwise mandatory 14 day self-quarantine. Detailed information on testing at VIE: www.viennaairport.com/pcrtest

Since 29 May, all accommodation facilities were allowed to re-open for touristic purposes.

Austria will start COVID-19 testing of 65,000 hotel employees per week on July 1 (after introducing the strategy during June in selected regions and increasing numbers as hospitality staff return to work). Austria is amongst the first countries implementing testing of a whole sector, possibly the first world-wide.

Restaurants and museums have been reopening since 15th May under social distancing rules, including icons like Vienna’s Albertina, Leopold Museum, and Belvedere Palace or Salzburg’s Hohensalzburg Fortress. The 2020 Centenary Salzburg Festival is on, from 1 to 30 August in a modified and shortened form.

Austria will open borders to neighbouring countries first. Borders between Austria and Germany as well as Austria and Switzerland will open on 15 June. Which is great for Austria now, and looking ahead to next winter bodes well for a successful ski season.

The successful measures to curb the spread of COVID-19 are the reason why Australia has been invited to be part of the First Movers Group established by Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz. Regular virtual meetings are held to increase the scientific and economic co-operation between the member countries Austria, Australia, New Zealand, Israel, Denmark, Greece, Singapore, Czech Republic, Norway. Opening of international borders and tourism are also on the agenda. Updates and latest info can be found on their site here.

A night at the Opera in Vienna? © Julious Silver /