Czech health ministry's travel blacklist and changing rules create confusion, canceled vacations

Croatia and Slovakia have changed the entry rules for the Czech Republic; travel bans for Tunisia and Russia are also going into effect.

Raymond Johnston

Written by Raymond Johnston Published on 01.07.2021 14:36 (updated on 02.07.2021) Time to read: 6 minutes

Vacationing this summer is proving as tricky as it was last year, with rules changing all the time. As the Delta variant of coronavirus starts to spread, the number of countries on the extreme risk list is likely to expand. This week, Tunisia and Russia were already added, and more destinations might join it as the Czech government comes up with a strategy to keep Covid under control.

Croatia, one of the most popular spots for Czechs to visit, has also changed its entry rules now that EU Digital Covid Certificates have become valid across the 27-member bloc. Slovakia will be imposing quarantine on unvaccinated visitors.

The Covid pass, as it is also called, is meant to facilitate traveling in the EU. It includes data to prove its holder is vaccinated against Covid-19 or tested negative for the virus. As of July 1, all EU 27 members must accept the Covid passes, but they will be able to set their own restrictions for their holders, for instance, obligatory quarantine if the number of the Covid infections starts rising again.

Travel agencies are already critical of the lack of coordination among EU countries in efforts to contain the virus this summer.

Fischer travel agency spokesman Jan Bezděk said the Czech government is again acting unsystematically. “Germans can continue to travel to countries outside the EU such as Tunisia, Turkey, or Egypt, and if they are vaccinated or have antibodies, they do not even need to be quarantined,” he said.

“This means that if a vaccinated German returns from vacation, he can come to the Czech Republic immediately. In the same way, Czechs can travel to Germany without restrictions, where they can meet people who have also returned from these countries,” he said.

Croatia toughens entry rules

Croatia has suddenly changed the conditions for Czechs to enter the country. As of Friday, it will be necessary to present a certificate of vaccination or a certificate of having undergone Covid. Another option is a EU Covid passport or a valid negative test. "Nobody counted on this, we were not informed. We were surprised that they changed it this way," Prime Minister Andrej Babiš said.

"They justify it by the fact that since July 1 the [EU] Covid passport has been in force, so in principle the conditions have not changed, but what has changed is that it is no longer possible to go there on an identity card, but that you need to have the Covid passport," Babiš said.

He admitted that this is a complication for tourists who were counting on only needing an ID card and may now have problems at the border. He expressed hope that the Croatian side would be tolerant.

"Today the Covid passport starts to be valid, Croatia hastily decided last night that tourists from the Czech Republic (but also from other countries) must show it at the border. However, the rules we have negotiated apply: 22 days after the first dose or a negative test or antibodies," Czech Foreign Minister Jakub Kulhánek Jakub Kulhánek wrote on Twitter.

The information was also confirmed by the Croatian Embassy in the Czech Republic. “A Covid passport or proof of infection-free status is required.”

"People must provide proof of vaccination, valid on the 22nd day after the first dose, a negative antigen or PCR test or conclusive antibodies," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Eva Davidová told news server iDnes.cz. It is also important to fill out the Enter Croatia arrival form before departure.

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The change in the conditions for entering Croatia was announced by Interior Minister Davor Božinović on Wednesday. He said that the decision of the local government is closely related to the fact that EU Covid passes have become valid within the European Union.

Božinović explained that the aim is to control the development of the epidemic in the country more effectively, as well as to try to prevent uncontrolled entry into the country. He said the use of the Covid pass simplifies and unifies control measures. From July 2, there will be no problem in obtaining a certificate of having undergone the disease, recovery, or passing a negative test, the minister assured. They will be obtainable at testing sites, even for foreigners.

Children under 12 years of age who are traveling accompanied by their legal guardians are exempted from the obligation to present a negative test. They do not have to enter quarantine if their representatives meet the previous conditions.

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However, there are exceptions that apply to several groups of people. Travelers who are only passing through Croatia are exempt from the above conditions. Another option may be confirmation of having had Covid and administration of the first dose of vaccine after the disease if less than five months have passed since the vaccination. Croatians will also accept a negative PCR test that is no older than 72 hours or a rapid antigen test no older than 48 hours.

Quarantine for unvaccinated after entering Slovakia

People who have not been vaccinated against coronavirus will have to be in quarantine for five days after they enter Slovakia as of July 9, the Slovak government decided.

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Foreign Ministry State Secretary Martin Klus told journalists that there would be some exceptions for this rule. Currently, people traveling from about 40 foreign countries with the low epidemic risk only need to show a negative test for coronavirus when they come to Slovakia. Slovakia will also close smaller crossings at the border with its neighboring countries next week. In the case of the Czech Republic, 14 out of the 32 crossings will be closed.

After the end of a one-month transition period beginning on July 9, cross-border commuters will not have an exception from the quarantine unless they have been vaccinated. Children under 12 will face the same quarantine rules as their parents.

The Slovak Health Ministry said the stricter conditions for travels have been introduced because of the spread of more contagious coronavirus variants and because people often misused the current system of exceptions. The measure will also apply to unvaccinated Slovaks who return after vacationing abroad.

“The principle is based on distinguishing between vaccinated and not vaccinated persons. The vaccination continues to be voluntary. Every choice means some responsibility. Vaccinated persons will have much easier access from any country,” Klus said.

The Slovak government also approved a bill that gives to the chief public health officer the right to decide that only vaccinated or negatively tested persons may participate in some massive events.

Leisure trips to Tunisia banned

Czech travel agencies will offer clients who were supposed to fly to Tunisia in July a choice of changing their destination or a refund.

On Tuesday, the Health Ministry added Tunisia on the list of countries at extreme risk of infection from July 5, and banned travel to the country from that date. The measure is valid until July 31.

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Blue Style travel agency spokeswoman Ilona Topolovová said Tunisia is a very popular holiday destination for Czech tourists, and the measure will affect thousands of clients. The agency is preparing several options for customers including a change of destination or a refund without a cancellation fee.

Clients of CK Fischer and Exim Tours, who bought a trip to Tunisia, will be able to go to Bulgaria instead.

"It is comparable in price to Tunisia, in the green category, and it is an ideal destination for families with children," Exim Tours spokesman Petr Kostka told ČTK.

They will refund money to customers who are not interested in this option, and will not be offering vouchers.

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Some expats stranded in Russia

Travel to and from Russia was banned as of July 1, as that country was placed on the extreme risk list.

According to Czech Health Ministry data, Russia has registered a considerable rise in the number of the Covid cases, mainly because of the spread of the more infectious Delta variant. While Russia is not a popular tourist destination in general, many Russians who have temporary residency in the Czech Republic but were visiting Russia when the change was announced were caught by surprise and now cannot return.

“They gave us one day between the announcement and the actual ban. A lot of my Russian colleagues are now stuck in Russia with no way to return to their homes and families. Some left property and pets here in the Czech Republic. All we got was a very formal response from the Ministry of Internal Affairs,” one person who contacted Expats.cz said.

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