We may not be able to explore far and wide for some time – but the fast-emerging idea of the ‘travel bubble’ is providing a glimmer of hope for housebound globetrotters. First Australia and New Zealand, then the Baltic states – and now Greece, Cyprus and Israel have suggested they could set up a ‘safe tourism zone’ allowing their citizens to travel freely between the three countries. (The concept, with individual countries buddying up to expand their citizens’ travel options, is similar to the ‘social bubble’ that has been implemented or proposed for households in several nations.)
In an effort to reboot their tourism economies, the countries’ leaders are in talks to set up a ‘corona corridor’ that would be their first step in a phased reintroduction of international travel. Of the ongoing discussions, Harry Theoharis, Greece’s tourism minister, said: ‘When we knocked on Israel’s door, it opened wide open. The interest is there; so too with Cyprus.’
However, there are still obstacles to be navigated before the ‘bubble’ can be put in place. Israel is still requiring that all foreign arrivals isolate for two weeks, and it’s unclear when this will be lifted. Greece and Cyprus’s membership of the EU and its free-movement Schengen area also poses a problem: allowing Israeli visitors in would likely mean shutting out all other tourists for a given period.
The proposals for an eastern Mediterranean ‘travel bubble’ come after the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania announced that they would allow their citizens to travel between the three countries from May 15 – the first such grouping between EU nations. Australia and New Zealand have also agreed to set up a similar arrangement in a bid to ease lockdown and allow their citizens to travel again.
In the UK, which yesterday took its first steps towards easing lockdown, the government announced that French travellers would be exempt from the 14-day quarantine due to be imposed on all foreign arrivals. France announced a similar exemption for Brits earlier last week.
The British government didn’t clarify why France was being treated as an exception, but it has led to speculation that an Anglo-French ‘bubble’ could be introduced over the coming months. With nearly 10 million Brits crossing the Channel in a normal year, it could well prove a popular move.
So while we still don’t know much about when international travel will return to its previous levels, travel bubbles are looking a lot like the next step on the road back to normal.
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