Europe’s Borders Could Remain Closed Until September

Emmanuel Macron, President of France, has raised concerns about a second wave of the coronavirus outbreak if Europe’s borders are reopened too soon. In a videoconference on Friday, Macron suggested that the entire Schengen area should remain in lockdown with closed borders until September. This would restrict air travel to almost zero for at least another five months.

Paris Charles de Gaulle
Major airports across Europe may remain closed until September. Photo: Dmitry Avdeev via Wikimedia

In what some are calling an extreme reaction, the French President has suggested that the European Union should close the Schengen area to foreigners for at least another five months. The president pointed out that the virus is spreading at different rates around the world with the US still not at its peak. Opening airports to allow non-essential travel over the summer could result in travelers bringing a second wave of the virus to Europe.

Extending lockdown

The initial lockdown in Europe began on the 17th of March. 30 members of the EU and the Schengen area entered lockdown at the same time; a lockdown that was due to end this week. However, the EU has now asked its members to extend the current state of lockdown until May and is considering further restrictions, as suggested by Macron.

Of the 30 counties in lockdown in Europe, four are not official members of the EU; Switzerland, Norway, Iceland, and Liechtenstein. Although not official members of the EU it is thought that they would abide by an EU decision to close borders until September.

In this circumstance, all non-essential air travel into mainland Europe would be banned. Some cargo flights, as well as repatriation flights and transit flights, have continued despite the current lockdown. It’s thought that these would continue to operate so the skies won’t be totally empty. However, passenger flights will be almost non-existent.

Schengen Area Europe
A map of the Schengen area seen in blue. The green shows members of the EU who are not in the Schengen area. Map: Mfloryan via Wikimedia

If the Schengen area remains closed, airlines hoping to capitalize on European destinations over the summer months could be very disappointed. Many airlines have been hoping that the summer months will allow for fairly regular schedules as restrictions lift. If Macron’s proposals are accepted, not only will Europe be off-limits for foreigners, but those living within the Schengen area have been told to avoid travel to other countries in the area.

Lifting restrictions

Despite Macron’s call for longer lockdowns, some European countries are already starting to lift restrictions. Austria has already said it is will allow shops and restaurants to open and land borders will reopen later this month. Denmark has plans to reopen schools later this week and some non-essential workers are being allowed to return to work in Spain. The Czech Republic is also due to lift social distancing measures this month.

European airlines coronavirus
If Europe’s borders remain closed until September, it would be a big blow for carriers such as Ryanair and easyJet. Photo: Getty

Counties around the world will be watching these changes to judge when is the best time to lift restrictions. Many are aware that China’s decision to lift travel restrictions in the Wuhan region has led to 108 new cases. 98 of the new cases have been imported. Lifting restrictions too soon could result in a second wave of cases, but remaining closed for too long will irreparably affect airlines, as well as entire economies. How soon is too soon?

A coordinated response

Currently, the approach from European countries is far from coordinated. Macron’s suggestions may seem extreme but it does show his desire for a synchronized approach. However, many will be praying that a travel ban does not stretch until September. If it does, it will be the longest-lasting travel ban as a result of the virus. President Macron is due to address the French people tonight.