EU unveils plans to save vacations and avoid a lost summer

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A woman wears a mouth mask as she walks in the Market Square in Bruges, Belgium, during a partial lifting of a lockdown to prevent the spread of coronavirus, COVID-19, Wednesday, May 13, 2020. Coronavirus lockdown restrictions have damaged the tourism industry in many European countries and left travelers wondering what restrictions will still be in place during the summer season. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

BRUSSELS – The European Union unveiled Wednesday its plan to help citizens across the 27 nations salvage their summer vacations after months of tough coronavirus confinement and to hopefully resurrect Europe’s badly battered tourism industry.

Around 150,000 people have died across Europe and Britain since the virus surfaced in northern Italy in February, but with the spread of the disease tapering off, people in many countries are cautiously venturing out of confinement to return to work and some schools are reopening.

A question on the minds of people, tour operators and the thousands of small businesses that depend on the tourism industry is whether this year's warmest months will turn into a lost summer, with most Europeans reduced to a home-style “staycation.”

“This is not going to be a normal summer, not for any of us. But when we all work together, and we all do our part ... then we don’t have to face a summer stuck at home or a complete lost summer for the European tourist industry,” Commission Executive Vice-President Margrethe Vestager told reporters.

In a series of guidelines, the EU’s executive arm, the European Commission, laid out its advice for lifting ID checks on hastily closed borders, helping to get airlines, ferries and buses running while ensuring the safety of passengers and crew, and preparing health measures for hotels to reassure clients.

But a big question remains: will the countries of the world’s biggest trading bloc follow the advice? Faced with a disease about which much is still unknown, national capitals have tended to go it alone, and they - not the EU Commission - have the final say over health and security matters.

The commission’s over-arching advice is that EU countries with similar rates of coronavirus infections and comparably strong health care systems should begin lifting border measures between each other. Tourists from outside Europe cannot enter until at least June 15.

The move comes amid deep concern that Europe’s ID-check free travel zone - the 26-country space known as the Schengen Area - is being strangled by controls, further harming virus-ravaged economies by limiting the movement of goods, services and people that are essential to business.