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Coronavirus cases set records in Europe this week. What does that mean for the return of U.S. travelers?


(The Washington Post illustration; iStock)

The record-setting coronavirus infection numbers in Europe this week may not bode well for U.S. travelers hoping to return to the continent anytime soon.

In just the past 10 days, Europe has recorded an exponential increase in infections, with a million new cases, The Washington Post reported. The continent has been nearly free of U.S. tourists since March 17, when the European Union restricted nonessential travel and closed its external borders. On July 1, the European Union began to allow travelers from some countries back in, but not those from the United States. While there are some exceptions — including Croatia, the United Kingdom and Turkey — most of Europe probably will not open its borders to leisure travelers from the United States as the outbreak remains uncertain on both sides of the pond.

“Country after country is just declaring their highest ever [coronavirus] numbers since the pandemic began,” says Adrian Hyzler, the chief medical officer of Healix International, a company that specializes in international security, medical and travel-assistance services. “Europe is just so preoccupied with trying to suppress this surge.”

However, some experts say Europe’s second wave may not change earlier estimations that U.S. travel may return in spring or summer 2021. Eduardo Santander, executive director of the European Travel Commission, said in an email that while the current situation across Europe is alarming, it is not a surprise.

“The seasonal resurgence of cases in Europe was widely expected and does not change the overall state of play for international tourism,” Santander said in an email.

Experts agree that a vaccine could turn the situation around, but without any details or timetable for its arrival, it is difficult to say when it could aid travel. In addition to hoping for a vaccine, Santander says both the United States and Europe need to figure out other strategic solutions to facilitate the return of travel between both destinations.

“The tourism sector in Europe has been continually advocating that governments both side of the Atlantic work together to develop a standardized protocol for testing and tracing,” he said.

Another solution may be “travel passports,” like CommonPass. Hyzler says he thinks it is a good sign that multiple companies are working on passports that may enable international travel by giving travelers a way to verify their coronavirus lab results and vaccination records.

While the future for travel to Europe may be uncertain, Americans are still eager to book international trips for next year. According to SkyScanner data gathered between Sept. 11 and Oct. 11, half of the top 10 searches for 2021 trips were to European cities.

“US travelers are looking to expand their horizons for 2021, returning to the far-flung parts of the world they’ve been missing this year,” Mark Crossey, SkyScanner’s U.S. traveler expert, said in an email. “Europe features heavily in the top ten destinations searched, with favourites that have been hit hard by the pandemic like London, Barcelona, Paris and Rome all high on peoples wish lists.”

A Department of State spokesperson said the United States is working closely with its transatlantic allies to allow for travel and business ties consistent with health guidelines to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus. In the meantime, the department advises travelers to keep an eye out for information on any developments regarding European travel restrictions.

“U.S. citizens considering traveling abroad should review the entire Travel Advisory for their transit countries and destination(s) on Travel.State.gov and check with their carrier of choice for any additional travel requirements, such as pre-departure testing,” the spokesperson said in an email. “As always, we will regularly update our destination-specific advice to U.S. travelers as conditions evolve, including any changes to entry restrictions.”

Read more:

Why you may want to consider a travel agent during the pandemic

These U.S. airlines are offering preflight coronavirus testing — for a price

These 6 countries are accepting American travelers for remote-work trips

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