Omicron rules — UK isolated — Quarantines shortened – POLITICO

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A guide to navigating Europe and beyond during coronavirus.


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OMI-STACLE COURSE: The highly contagious Omicron variant is already dominant in much of Europe, with COVID-19 infection charts pointing almost vertically upward in countries like Denmark, Ireland, France, Spain and Portugal. That means Omicron has already escaped the U.K., where it quickly took over after first being detected in southern Africa last month. Even so, EU members have imposed further draconian travel restrictions on the bloc’s newest ex-member over the Christmas holidays. Freedom of movement, or at least what remains of it in this pandemic, seems now more than ever to be a privilege of EU membership.

Welcome back to POLITICO’S Pandemic Passport — our “between the years” edition comes to you from the snowy hills of Lower Austria! As travel rules become increasingly hard to navigate, we’re pulling together everything you need to know about Europe’s evolving restrictions. We’ll land in your mailbox on Friday afternoons — if you’ve been forwarded this email, you can sign up here. It’s free!

We welcome your feedback, tips and horror stories about travel around Europe. Get in touch: [email protected] or tweet me @busvine


WHERE CAN I GO? We’re updating the coronavirus travel tracker, your guide to visiting every EU country, the U.K. and Switzerland — whether from within the bloc or from further afield. France, Germany and Austria are among countries that imposed new restrictions over the Christmas break — read on for details. Please bear with us; we’ll do a full sweep in the New Year.

Some highlights:

France introduces mandatory masking in all public spaces, including outdoors.

Belgium reverses COVID rules, reopens theaters, cinemas.

Greece cancels public New Year celebrations but will allow venues to stay open until 2 a.m. that evening.

Cyprus is handing out free self tests to those arriving from the U.K. — and visitors are expected to use them.

Read more in the full guide.


DRIVING HOME AFTER CHRISTMAS? A Briton living in Belgium had his return trip from a Christmas visit to the U.K. cut short when he was refused entry by French border officials to Le Shuttle, Eurotunnel’s cross-channel rail service that in normal times serves as a quick hop for drivers heading over to the continent.

Europe cut off — again: Public affairs executive Roland Moore fell victim to tough new French rules that only allow British drivers to enter the country if they hold French residency. Brits are not allowed to cross France by road to reach another country of residence in the EU — a right still accorded to EU citizens.

“Like a criminal”: Moore tweeted up a storm about the saga: “Imagine how I felt. Stranded and deserted last night and escorted off @LeShuttle property like a criminal,” he lamented. That was enough to draw a response from French Ambassador Catherine Colonna, who helpfully posted France’s latest travel advice to Britons. Le Shuttle followed up by rushing out its own update.

Get back: In a postscript, Moore tweeted that he did finally make it to Brussels — on the Eurostar train. A day later, the French government said it would relax the rule, but only during the holidays, so that Brits can get back to where they once belonged.


COUNTRIES SHORTEN QUARANTINE: With case numbers into record territory across much of Europe, several countries are following the lead set by the United States and shortening COVID-19 quarantine. These decisions seek to prevent infection from causing catastrophic staff shortages in the health, police and fire services, as well as at vital infrastructure structures such as transport, power and telecoms networks. They also amount to a gamble that Omicron will indeed turn out to cause less severe disease than earlier variants, as early studies suggest.

On the seventh day: Spain cut quarantine for coronavirus patients to seven days from 10, just as the country hit a record 100,000 new infections in a single day. Italy has decided that people who have been vaccinated will no longer have to go into quarantine after coming into contact with a person who has caught COVID-19. And Greece has followed the U.S. lead in halving quarantine to five days.

GERMANY ADDS ITALY, CANADA TO HIGH-RISK LIST: Germany has added Italy, Canada, Malta and San Marino to its coronavirus high-risk list. The U.K. has been classified as a “virus variant” area since December 20 — British travelers are banned outright, while German nationals and residents arriving from the U.K. must show proof of a negative COVID-19 test and quarantine for two weeks regardless of their vaccination status.

No fireworks: While Germany didn’t cancel Christmas, leaders did impose social restrictions over the New Year in a bid to delay Omicron and shield emergency services from mass outbreaks among staff. In addition to a firework ban already in force, private gatherings are now limited to 10 people; clubs and discos closed; and sporting events being held in empty venues.


MY FAVORITE THINGS: Your correspondent flew back before Christmas to his adopted home in the snow-clad hills of Lower Austria after a tour of duty at POLITICO Europe’s office in Brussels — everything went smoothly as Belgium was classified as a low-risk country and I had already uploaded the proof of vaccination required at the time onto my smartphone.

Climb every mountain: I was due for a booster, and managed to get a half dose of Moderna — without an appointment — on the day of my arrival at the Austria Center in Vienna. That was good news because I’m mainly resident in Germany and had my first two shots in Berlin (it’s a long story!). Obtaining proof that I was boosted turned out to be quite a mountain to climb, though, as I lacked an Austrian social security number. It took a lot of phone calls to helplines, health officials and doctors to fix the problem. Now, thanks to my wife Susie’s powers of persuasion, I can prove I’m boosted too!

So long, farewell: U.K. holidaymakers arriving in Innsbruck had a hard landing, meanwhile, after being caught out by a change in the Austrian travel rules that took effect on Christmas Day. The switch shortened the timeline for getting a negative PCR test to 48 hours, required in addition to providing proof of a booster shot. A total of 110 visitors were denied entry, the BBC reported. Most were flown home immediately while a dozen were allowed to continue their holiday after getting a new test. These strict new rules apply to visitors from “viral variant” areas — in Europe, these are the U.K., the Netherlands, Denmark and Norway. Skiers beware!

Read the latest Austrian travel guidance here.


Coronavirus cases reach record levels across Europe — France, Italy and Spain are just some of the countries hitting new peaks.

Five transport headaches facing Europe in 2022 — Policymakers will tackle combustion engine cars, truckers’ rights and air traffic control in the New Year.

U.K. data suggests Omicron has lower hospitalization risk than Delta — Patients with Omicron are 50 to 70 percent less likely to be admitted to the hospital.


Back at the Austria Center in Vienna — where your correspondent failed at the first attempt to obtain a certificate proving he’d had his booster — a fake vaccination racket has just been exposed. Acting on a tipoff, police found that rogue staff had filched blank vaccination booklets and stickers from vaccine batches, using these to register unjabbed bribe-payers in the IT system. Police suspect at least four staffers of serious fraud, fraudulent misuse of data and forgery. Now, as for my vaccine certificate, that is definitely genuine. Honest!

We wish you a Happy New Year: Stay safe in 2022 — and don’t get stranded.

MANY THANKS: Kelsey Hayes 

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Douglas Busvine