Covid 19 coronavirus: Remember the ‘travel bubble’? Here’s how it burst

To keep tourism afloat during the pandemic, some countries formed travel alliances with their neighbours. The experiment has had mixed results.

One of the strategies for keeping international travel afloat during the pandemic was the creation of “travel bubbles”: alliances between neighbouring nations with low infection rates that would allow travellers from those countries to freely visit.

But as infections continue to pop up, it appears that, in many places, the travel bubble has burst.

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There was a lot riding on the alliances. The pause on international tourism doesn’t just spoil family vacations; it affects the global economy in profound ways, too. The World Travel and Tourism Council estimates that about 1 in 10 jobs are related to tourism and travel. For popular destinations like Greece, where the tourism sector is responsible for about 40 per cent of jobs, the effect is even more significant.

Where have the bubbles burst?

In May, New Zealand and Australia garnered attention when they announced a plan to create one of the first travel partnerships during the pandemic. The “Trans-Tasman bubble” would allow citizens of each country to travel to the other without a quarantine or a test. The hope was to enact it by early September, but in early August, a coronavirus outbreak in the Australian state of Victoria put those plans on hold.

For a while, Europe seemed to represent the best hope for getting tourism going, and it began with the bubble concept. On May 15, the Baltic States of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania created the first travel bubble in Europe; later that month, Hungary and Slovenia agreed that their citizens could continue to travel between the two countries.

Soon, much of Europe became a giant bubble. The European Commission created “Reopen EU,” a site listing travel rules within European countries. Each member country began easing restrictions at its own pace. Italy and Germany for example, opened quickly to travellers arriving from inside the European Union or the border-free Schengen zone. Britain also began opening up to its neighbours.

The welcome mat wasn’t rolled out long, though. Flare-ups of the virus caused borders to shut on short notice, disrupting travellers’ plans. In late July, Britain abruptly announced that travellers returning from Spain would have to self-quarantine for 14 days, just a few weeks after it had opened restriction-free travel to the country. In mid-August, British vacationers in France had to either rush home to beat newly announced restrictions, or face two weeks of quarantine when they returned.

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