“A version of this article was previously published on May 12, 2020, and was updated on May 13, 2020, with more information.”
Slowly but surely, the world seems to be waking up. After the surrealness that took over the planet in mid-March making staying at home and social distancing the staples of our daily lives, one by one countries are starting to find ways to safely reopen. That means everything from restaurants with glass partitions in Italy to parks at 30 percent capacity in China to travel bubbles in Europe’s Baltic states and Oceania. And as the United States begins to find its own way back, perhaps we can look around the world for examples of how to do it correctly.
Australia and New Zealand
After New Zealand effectively eliminated the coronavirus, and Australia almost did too, the Oceania nations proposed the world’s first post-COVID “travel bubble,” allowing free movement between countries. The bubble is predicted to start around August, right in time for ski season in New Zealand. It’s especially important for the tourism-dependent islands as Aussies make up almost 40 percent of New Zealand’s visitors.
If you want to go to Austria and avoid the mandatory 14-day quarantine, you can get a speedy COVID-19 test right at the airport. Though the country is only currently running flights to eight cities, arriving or departing passengers can opt for the 190-euro ($206) test, with results ready in a few hours. Departing passengers can also use the results to enter other countries and show they’re free from the virus.
The countries of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia have also agreed to open their borders to each other beginning May 15. This “travel bubble” will allow free movement between the countries, which reported fewer than 150 COVID-19 deaths and now have daily new cases in the single digits. Visitors from other countries will still be subject to 14-day quarantines upon arrival.
The country first hit with COVID-19 is also among the first to recover, with China now opening its public parks and tourist attractions at 30 percent capacity. The Forbidden City palace complex in Beijing has capped daily visitation at 5,000 people as well. Following in public parks’ footsteps, Shanghai Disney reopened on May 11, making it the first Disney park to reopen since the pandemic began. It too will be limited to 30 percent of its normal capacity and will require masks and social distancing for all guests.
China also resumed domestic flights in low-risk parts of the country, just ahead of the Labor Day holiday on May 1. Flight demand jumped 1,500 percent the first weekend flights were permitted, though volume is still at 45 percent of pre-pandemic levels.
Hong Kong’s international airport is introducing cutting edge technology in hopes of getting people in and out of the city without risking infection. Its new Cleantech disinfecting facilities will put passengers through a 40-second full-body disinfection. Passengers will also have their temperatures taken prior to entry, and disinfecting robots will roam the airport and clean public surfaces. The airport is also launching a test program where it covers touchpoints in a clear, anti-microbial coating. The trial will conclude at the end of May.
Likely encouraged by the suddenly clean air around its cities and the massive reduction in traffic, French authorities are encouraging citizens to use their bicycles for commuting as the nationwide lockdown ended on May 11. To incentivize its population, the government is offering 50 euros ($54) per person to go toward bike repairs, as people dust off their handlebars and lube up their chains. It’s also extending a program that allows employers to reimburse up to 400 euros ($435) of travel costs for employees who cycle to work.
If South Korean baseball can only hold your sports interest for so long, good news is on the horizon: Germany has allowed the Bundesliga to begin practicing with games starting up again on May 16. In addition, schools will completely reopen for the summer term, and smaller shops have been reopened with strict social distancing guidelines. Berlin’s famous botanical gardens have reopened too, though all visitors must wear masks. That said, the country has allowed local governments to revisit restrictions if new infections return to 50 per 100,000.
Greece is trying to salvage some of 2020’s tourist season, aiming to open its borders to international tourists by July 1. After experiencing only 150 deaths from COVID-19, the optimistic country will be opening city hotels on June 1, and other hotels a month later. Visitors will be subject to a throat swab, a health questionnaire, and a COVID-19 test upon landing, with results ready in just 12 hours.
Italy lifted some of its strict social distancing requirements, now allowing people to visit family members within their same region, as well as outdoor exercise. Always a country to appreciate the importance of food, Italy is planning to follow up by allowing restaurants and bars to open in June, though early plans out of Rome and Milan have many restaurants using plexiglass shields and partitions. The country only recently reopened restaurants for delivery and take out.
America’s closest warm-weather international getaway is looking to reopen its border for non-essential travel later this month, with a decision expected on May 19. Assuming outsiders are allowed back in, two of the country’s top destinations — Los Cabos and Quintana Roo — are looking to open as soon as possible. Los Cabos announced a five-phase plan to reopen, aiming to have its international terminal open by July 1 and 62 percent of hotel rooms back online by that time. It’ll also offer businesses a “clean point” certification from the Mexican government, signifying they’ve bet a certain level of sanitation.
Quintana Roo — the state that’s home to Cancun, Isla Mujeres, and other popular destinations — has installed thermographic scanners at the airport to seek out visitors with fevers. It’s also starting a new “Come 2 Cancun” campaign in which local hotels will be offering two-nights-for-the-price-of-one stays.
Figuring out how to lure cautious diners back into restaurants has been a serious dilemma for surviving restaurant owners. And though it hasn’t become law in the Netherlands, one restaurant along Amsterdam’s waters has begun using separate plexiglass booths, effectively secluding customers in their own private greenhouses. Though restaurateurs argue this is likely not a long-term solution, it very well may be something we see popping up when Dutch restaurants reopen later this month.
South Korea, which got its first coronavirus case the same day as the US, began letting up on its lockdown toward the end of April. By the Labor Day long weekend in May, shopping malls, golf courses, and beaches were all packed with people. Despite lockdown restrictions easing on April 19, Seoul only saw 10 new infections in the week leading up to the holiday.
And, of course, the Korean Baseball Organization will be playing games in empty stadiums. They’ll be broadcast live on ESPN, if you’ve grown tired of watching professional slippery-stair climbing.
Spain, which had the most strict lockdown rules on the planet, finally let its people outside at the beginning of May, the first in a four-phase plan to have the country up and running by June. Exercise and outdoor activity is allowed from 6:00 AM to 10:00 AM and 8:00 PM to 11:00 PM, with time slots allotted by age group. Public beaches in Barcelona are still closed, but the next phase of reopening will see bars and restaurants running at half-capacity, and groups of 10 allowed to socialize in public.
United Arab Emirates
In true Dubai fashion, Emirates became the first airline to offer almost-instant COVID-19 testing in April when it announced 10-minute blood tests at Dubai International Airport’s Terminal 3 group check-in area.
Heathrow Airport, the busiest airport in the UK, will begin using cameras that can detect passengers’ temperatures in Terminal 2, with trials beginning over the next two weeks and hopes to roll the cameras out airport-wide. The airport is also looking into UV sanitation and contactless security checkpoints.
Vietnam has been an under-the-radar COVID-19 success story, with only 270 reported cases and zero deaths. Beginning April 24, the country began to reopen restaurants, retail, trains, and busses, and is aiming to bring international visitors back in June. Talks are currently underway with China and South Korea — which make up 55 percent of Vietnam’s visitors — to create travel bubbles between the countries. And plans are to approach Australia and New Zealand if the first bubbles prove successful.