Australia international borders: Travel requirements due to COVID-19 in Europe and US will be a nightmare

Even if Australians were allowed to go there, what would travelling around in Europe or the US look like? In a word, complicated.

Navigating the new requirements for vaccination status and testing requirements could make international travel a nightmare for a long time to come.

While EU citizens can obtain an EU Digital COVID Certificate that allows them to travel freely throughout EU member countries, in principle at least, that option is not available to Australians, whether vaccinated or not. Although Australia is recognised for its low incidence of COVID-19, and included on most countries' 'green' list, the requirements for Australian travellers are more exacting, and may vary from one country to the next.

For example, despite Australia inclusion on Italy's 'List D' – countries with a low epidemiological risk – anyone arriving in Italy from Australia is required to undergo self-isolation and health surveillance for 10 days, with a swab test at the end of that period. You could enter Italy more easily if you were coming from another EU country or from a Schengen area country. All that's required is a negative PCR or antigen swab test, taken in the 48 hours before arrival in Italy.

Anyone who has been in Australia for the previous 14 days can enter the UK without the need to quarantine provided they show proof of a COVID-19 test within three days before departure for the UK. If they travel via Qatar or the UAE they're considered to be arriving from a 'red' zone, and that bars their entry to the UK, even if it's just a transit stop of a few hours. The only exceptions are British or Irish nationals or anyone with residency rights in the UK. However, as infections from the delta variant increase in the UK, it can be more difficult to travel from there to EU countries.

Australian residents who are fully vaccinated can enter France free from any health measures. Those who are not vaccinated must present a negative test taken less than 72 hours before flight departure. A transit stop in a Gulf State airport would not affect that status, provided the traveller remains within the airport. However travellers coming to France from an 'Orange' list country such as the UK can only enter France if they are fully vaccinated. Unvaccinated travellers must have 'pressing grounds for travel', and are required to self-isolate for seven days.

Which vaccines will countries accept?

AstraZeneca and Pfizer are accepted by those European countries that require proof of vaccine, provided the second shot was administered at least two weeks before arrival. The European Medicines Agency (EMA) has also approved the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines. However, Greece and Cyprus have come under fire from other members of the EU for accepting tourists who have had Russia's Sputnik and China's Sinopharm vaccines, neither of which have had approval from the EMA.

Australians who have had both jabs can log in via the MyGov website, navigate to the Medicare page and download a COVID-19 digital certificate showing which vaccines have been administered and on which dates. A printed copy will be required.

However, if you wanted to travel to the US, you might find your options limited by the AstraZeneca vaccine. The US Food and Drug Administration has yet to approve the vaccine, which means some places in the US will not recognise it. This recently proved a problem for Canadians (where AstraZenaca has been widely used) wanting to return to Broadway in New York to see Bruce Springsteen. Initially, only those who have received an FDA-approved vaccine are allowed to join the audience, so fans across the border couldn't attend. The theatre later changed this requirement, reportedly at Springsteen's own request. 

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Meanwhile, different US states have different rules. Florida has banned businesses from forcing people to show proof of vaccination. But cruise line Royal Caribbean, which restarted cruises from Florida on Saturday,  got around this by asking passengers to voluntarily provide their vaccination credentials. If you didn't provide proof of vaccination, your movements on the ship are restricted. Ninety-nine per cent of passengers provided their proof.

Testing required for country-to-country travel

Imagine you've had two weeks in Italy and now you want to soak up the sun in the Greek Islands. All travellers arriving in Greece are required to have either a negative PCR test taken within 72 hours before arrival or a negative antigen test taken within 48 hours prior to arrival. Without that proof you won't be allowed to board a flight to Greece.

The same applies if you want to travel from Italy to Austria, but if you want to enter France you are not subject to any health measures provided you're fully vaccinated. 

Expect changes at short notice

On June 8 Portugal was moved from the UK's green list to amber. Anyone arriving in the UK from Portugal after that date would have to self-quarantine for 10 days after arriving in the UK. The change caught many Brits enjoying the sun in Portugal on the hop, unable to book a return flight in time.

On June 21, concerned at the spread of the delta variant of COVID-19 in the UK, the Italian government announced that anyone coming from the UK would be quarantined for five days.

What does the future look like?

The northern summer of 2020 was a stinker, with no vaccines available, lax restrictions on social gatherings in most places, no contact tracing and hardly any testing. Most of those glitches have been remedied for the summer of 2021.

There will be problems, outbreaks, lockdowns and restrictions that are imposed at short notice, but probably not the wave of infections that wracked Europe late in 2020. We'll get to find out what works, and what needs fixing. That includes establishing whether one vaccine is more effective than another. Building on that experience, the northern summer of 2022, when Australians might finally be allowed out to travel in some parts of the world, should see fewer infections, fewer restrictions and a more normal atmosphere on the ground.

While countries are walking a tightrope, needing to contain and suppress the virus, they're under pressure from tourism operators to get the wheels spinning. Since June 21 for example, Italy has been allowing US travellers who have been fully vaccinated to enter without quarantine requirements. That's less restrictive than the conditions for arrivals from Australia, and despite Australia's far lower incidence of COVID-19. But while almost 50 per cent of the US population is fully vaccinated as of June 24, the same figure for Australia is less than five per cent. That's a shatteringly sad performance, and no surprise that Italy is not interested in extending the same privilege to us.

See also: 'We're saving money on clean-up': Europe prepares for a summer without Aussies

See also: What other countries are saying about our closed borders

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