July 06, 2021
The Independence Day weekend marked not only a celebration of our national pride and independence but signs in Europe that pre-Covid freedoms may soon be restored. As you probably know, most Western European countries have followed some of the strictest lockdown measures worldwide, outside of a few countries in Asia, such as China and Singapore. The UK, for example, has kept its population in tight and ever-changing lockdown mode for about 15 months.
Yesterday, British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, stated: “We must be honest with ourselves that if we can’t open our society in the next few weeks…then we must ask ourselves when we will be able to return to normal?” He went on to announce a plan to abolish most of the restrictions on the English with effect from July 19th. Mr. Johnson and his advisors have based their assessment on two key points. First, most people in the UK have received vaccinations, over 80% have had the first shot, and over 60% have had both. Second, there is much evidence that the vaccines are effective, even against the highly publicized Delta variant. The latter point is especially relevant given almost all Covid cases in the UK are now from the Delta variant.
This attitude seems to be reflected in other European counties. I traveled to Sweden a week or so ago, including a stop in the Netherlands. Quite clearly those countries were beginning to open. Stockholm’s approach seems no different from what we see in Atlanta – masks were mandatory in the airport but nowhere else that we went. The airport in Amsterdam (which is one of the largest airport hubs in Europe) was very busy. Before we caught our flight home, we encountered bands of Dutch soccer fans dressed in bright orange wandering the terminals waiting for their flights to Budapest to see the national team play (and lose as it happens).
What do these changes mean for us? First, the option of spending time in the tourist destinations of Europe has been or soon will be, restored provided you are fully vaccinated. One benefit of being early to take advantage of the renewed ability to travel will be the opportunity to see some wonderful cities without the normal crush of tourist traffic. Paris, Berlin, and Rome could all be fun places to visit this summer – but check the latest travel rules first.
On a wider issue, the changes in Europe should have a positive effect on economic activity, both locally and globally. The pandemic-related restrictions, in general, had a more negative impact on European economies than the US, so there is much ground to be made up. No doubt Mr. Johnson is very mindful of the need to get his country’s economy moving.
The pandemic is clearly still with us, and there is no sign that Covid-19 will ever truly go away. The focus of western leaders seems to have moved on to how to live with the virus as they establish plans for returning to a more normal way of life.