Dec 28, 2021 - World

Dispatch from Europe: What it's like to travel during COVID

A technician in PPE performs COVID tests next to the Arc de Triomphe in Paris this morning.

A technician in PPE performs COVID tests next to the Arc de Triomphe in Paris this morning. Photo: Glen Johnson/Axios

PARIS Pharmacies from Italy north to Paris are offering cheap, quick COVID tests as countries try to preserve their holiday traditions and economies.

Why it matters: Europe has been ahead of the U.S. in suffering the effects of Omicron.

Glen's family trip over the past 10 days offers lessons for the U.S.:

  • You get in virtually no restaurant without proof of vaccination. For Europeans, it's a digital pass via a QR code on their smartphones. For Americans, it's showing their CDC vaccination card — and occasionally a passport to prove it's their card.
  • A pre-departure test from Italy required a three-hour wait in Milan's chilly Piazza Duomo. Then Swiss border guards never asked for the certificate or the country's mandatory pre-entry registration form.
  • In Paris, pharmacies and even the Champs-Élysées had pop-up test centers. They offered rapid tests — with certified results emailed directly to digital pass holders or verified with a paper certificate — that are good for air travel. It cost €30 (about $34).

What we're watching:

  • Packed sidewalks and cafés in Paris, and crowds for a full-moon tour of the Coliseum in Rome, show people are trying to resume normal life.
  • Plenty of people aren't wearing masks, but many are. In Rome, police outside the Pantheon were telling visitors to pull them up over their noses.
  • Strategies that have worked: Masks indoors and outdoors, except when away from crowds; eating outdoors when possible and away from others when indoors; traveling by van to avoid airport and airplane crowds; wearing N95 masks in Paris.

The bottom line: Travel is possible — even overseas. But you have to be flexible and ready to spend time and money.

  • For the Johnson family, that included showing a vax card, game ticket and passport (to prove the ticket was theirs), to enter famed San Siro stadium in Milan to watch Inter Milan beat Serie A soccer rival Torino. The crowd of over 50,000 all wore masks.
  • It also means one more test today. Six people are hoping for negative results so they can avoid cancellations of flights taking some east — and the rest back to the Sneak Peek editing desk.
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