June 15, 2020 / 1:00 AM / 24 days ago

REFILE-Europe starts to reopen borders but no free travel yet

(Refiles to fix word order in 4th paragraph)

* EU Commission urged Schengen countries to lift controls

* EU set to open up to outside countries from July

* Spain still closed, restrictions elsewhere

By Philip Blenkinsop

BRUSSELS, June 15 (Reuters) - European countries ease some border controls on Monday after coronavirus lockdowns, but Spain’s continued closure, a patchwork of restrictions elsewhere and new ways of working mean pre-pandemic levels of travel are a long way off.

The Schengen area of 22 EU countries plus Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland operates control-free crossings, but they have been mostly closed for three months to all but goods traffic and critical workers.

European Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson urged Schengen members last week to lift internal border controls by Monday, to allow a gradual reopening to other countries from July.

The move could help salvage the part of the summer season for Europe’s battered travel and tourism industry. With recreation and culture, the sector makes up almost 10% of the EU economy and an even bigger chunk in Mediterranean countries, some of which were hit hardest by the pandemic.

From Iceland to Greece, many restrictions for EU and Schengen visitors will ease on Monday, but it will not be a return to unfettered travel for the Schengen area’s 420 million inhabitants.

Spain will allow no foreign tourists until June 21, with exceptions on some Spanish islands.

Elsewhere, the right to travel will depend on where you live and where you are going.

Greece will mandate quarantines for those arriving from a string of airports in eight EU countries. The Czech Republic has a traffic-light system, barring entry for tourists from ‘orange’ or ‘red’ countries such as Portugal and Sweden.

Denmark will allow in tourists from Iceland, Germany and Norway, but notably not Sweden, on condition they book at least six nights’ accommodation.

Britain’s mandatory two-week quarantine for visitors means Brits will face the same confinement in France.

Before the crisis, an average of 3.5 million people crossed an internal EU border every day, according to a European Parliament report last year, some 1.7 million of the commuting to work.

Many of the latter are now working from home, while continued restrictions and health concerns are expected to curb tourism and business travel.

At Brussels Airport, day one of the reopening will see around 60 flights operating, 10% of the normal 600. (Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop; additional reporting by Claudette Clara-Leila in Madrid, Catarina Demony in Lisbon, Richard Lough in Paris, Jan Lopatka in Prague and Stine Jacobsen in Copenhagen Editing by Ros Russell)

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