Austria has issued travel warnings for the entire Western Balkans, the day the European Union added two of the region’s six states to its list of safe countries.
Several Balkan states are seeing rising cases, but all 27 EU members have agreed that borders could be reopened with Serbia and Montenegro.
Austria said its highest travel warning was now in place for the region.
It includes Bosnia and Herzegovina, North Macedonia, Albania and Kosovo.
The category six warning affects all travel to the Western Balkans and recommends Austrians return immediately from affected countries. Those who return will either face a 14-day quarantine or must show proof of a negative Covid-19 test.
The UK, Portugal, Sweden and Turkey are also subject to the highest Austrian warning level in Europe.
Austria recorded 107 new cases in the past 24 hours and Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg told reporters that some recent Covid-19 infections were traced to people who had traveled from the Western Balkans. “We are seeing, for example, in our neighboring (EU) countries Croatia and Slovenia an increase in gatherings of people returning from travel,” he said.
In Austria, thousands of people from the region like to return there for summer vacations and the Vienna government seeks to discourage their trips.
What is the situation in the Balkans?
Last week, Croatia reinstated the 14-day quarantine for travelers from Bosnia, Kosovo, North Macedonia and Serbia after seeing a rise in infections.
These four states have seen a higher infection rate since early June. North Macedonia reported 2,067 cases in the past 14 days, with Kosovo and Albania surpassing 1,000.
A state of emergency has been declared in several towns in Serbia and on Monday Prime Minister Ana Brnabic was booed during her visit to the town of Novi Pazar, one of the main centers of infection.
Why are cases increasing?
Western Balkan countries have implemented some of the strictest measures in Europe to limit the spread of the coronavirus. Governments have imposed total lockdowns over long weekends, daily curfews and bans on intercity travel.
The strict controls have apparently produced results, with the region’s infection rates below the EU average. Montenegro even said it was the only country in Europe without a single active case.
But the easing of restrictions has led to record daily numbers of new infections in several countries, including North Macedonia and Bosnia. And even though Serbia and Montenegro is on the EU green list, new cases have also increased there, which also prompted Austria’s latest warning.
Serbia has reintroduced some restrictions to try to prevent the situation from spiraling out of control. Its chief epidemiologist said the country was “now reaching the maximum of the second peak”. Citizens planning to travel to EU countries hope that this is an accurate assessment.