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COMPARE: Which European countries have the toughest rules for gaining citizenship?

Though European passports offer a huge range of benefits, the rules and costs for getting your hands on one vary massively from country to country. Here's a look at which countries have strictest and most lenient requirements.

COMPARE: Which European countries have the toughest rules for gaining citizenship?
Photo by Christian Lue on Unsplash

In the wake of Brexit, thousands of Brits across Europe have been taking on the nationality of the country where they live as a way of maintaining their EU citizenship – and they’re not alone.

With EU and EEA passports conferring the right to work and live freely throughout the bloc, obtaining a new European nationality has been a long-standing dream for many migrants. If you’re one of them, the rules for doing so will depend on where you live. 

Gaining citizenship through family or through marriage is possible, but if you don’t have any useful relatives or an EU spouse you’ll be looking at getting citizenship through residency.

From residency requirements to rules on dual nationality, every country in Europe has its own way of tackling naturalisation. Here’s a run-down of some of the most sought-after European nationalities, how you can go about getting hold of one and how much the basic fee is (this cost does not include the certified translation of documents which can easily run into several hundred euro depending on how many documents you need translated). 

Austria

At ten years’ continuous residence, Austria has one of the longest naturalisation processes of any European country, making it a slightly less attractive option for anyone looking for a shortcut to EU citizenship. Combined with high application fees and the fact that, like Germany and Spain, Austria has strict rules against dual nationality, it’s perhaps unsurprising that the Austrian citizenship is one of the least applied-for citizenships in Europe. In the wake of Brexit, however, the number of Brits applying for an Austrian passport has been steadily rising. 

READ MORE: What you need to know about applying for Austrian citizenship

If you do want to become a naturalised Austrian and think you meet the requirements, you’ll need to fill in an application form and submit a range of documents, including your passport, birth certificate (translated into German), proof of your Austrian address and uninterrupted residency in the country, B1 German and a completed citizenship test. You’ll also need to demonstrate that you have a positive attitude towards Austria and can support yourself financially without relying on the state.

Application Fee: €130 to apply, €1,100-1,500 if granted 

Length of time living in country: 10 years  

Language level needed: B1 German

Dual nationality allowed: No

France

France has one of the shortest residency qualifying periods. For most foreign nationals, you’ll need to have spent five years in the country, but this can be reduced to two if you have completed postgraduate studies at a French university. As you might expect, the main criterion for citizenship is successful integration: you’ll need to show that you’re able to speak French at an intermediate level, and that you have a knowledge of, and appreciation for, French culture, history and politics. 

For the application, you’ll need two copies of the application form – demande d’acquisition de la nationalité francaise – in addition to a valid passport, certified translations of your birth certificate and those of your parents, tax returns and January and December payslips from the past three years, a rental agreement or proof of home ownership in France, a clean criminal record and a B1 (or higher) language certificate.

READ ALSO Philosophy, household chores and cheese – what you might be asked in the French citizenship interview

After submitting your documents, you’ll be invited to an interview (in French) in which you’ll likely need to demonstrate your knowledge of and commitment to the French way of life. While you won’t necessarily have to list every monarch in the Ancien Régime, your knowledge of civic life and politics could be tested, so it’s a good idea to have a read of the citizenship booklet (known as the Livre de Citoyen) beforehand.

The processing time for applications is quite long though – the average is 18 months to two years between first submitting your application and gaining citizenship.

Application Fee: €55

Length of time living in country: 5 years 

Language level needed: B1 French 

Dual nationality allowed: Yes

Denmark

To qualify for citizenship in Denmark, you’ll need to not only have spent almost a decade in the country, but will need to have pretty good written and spoken Danish to boot. While many European countries settle for A2 or B1 language skills, the Danish government require most migrants applying for citizenship to complete a language certificate known as Prøve I Dansk 3, which equates to B2 Danish. If you can prove that you’ve been financially independent for the past 8.5 years and haven’t relied on state benefits, however, passing the Prøve I Dansk 2, which equates to B1 Danish, will suffice.  

Once you’ve got your nine years and know your rugbrød from your flæskesteg, you’ll be asked to sign a declaration pledging allegiance and loyalty to Denmark and Danish society and promising to abide by its laws. You also need to submit paperwork to prove your identity, current nationality, residency and economic activity in Denmark and pass a citizenship test with questions about Danish life, culture and politics. 

Once you get through all this and your citizenship application has been approved by the Danish parliament, you’ll be required to attend a ceremony at which you must shake hands with a local official. If you refuse the handshake, you can wave goodbye to your new nationality.

In recent months, the Danish government has also put forward proposals to introduce new questions on Danish values in the citizenship test and an interview as part of the process, but this hasn’t, as yet, been put into law.

Application Fee: €510 (3,800 DKK) 

Length of time living in country: 9 years

Language level needed: B2 Danish

Dual nationality allowed: Yes 

READ ALSO: The hurdles you have to overcome to gain Danish citizenship

Germany

As with most aspects of life in Germany, becoming a naturalised citizen entails a lot of paperwork. If you want to apply after six years, you’ll need to show that you’ve been continually resident in the country continuous for this time, have upper intermediate (B2 level) German and have successfully completed an integration course at your local Volkshochschule. If you’re applying after eight years, as most people do, you can dispense with the integration course, but you will need to prove you’re integrated into society by demonstrating conversational (B1) German language skills and passing a citizenship test with questions on to German politics and culture.

In addition to this, you can expect to be asked for a completed application form, valid passport, certified translations of your birth certificate, tax returns from previous years, proof of valid health insurance, and your most recent rental agreement or proof of home ownership. Since the end of the Brexit transition period, British people applying for German citizenship have also been treated in the same way as other third-country nationals, meaning that in most cases they have to renounce their UK citizenship in order to become German. 

Application Fee: €255

Length of time living in country: 6-8 years 

Language level needed: B1 German 

Dual nationality allowed: In general no, but there are exceptions such as for EU citizens, and sometimes when a parent holds German nationality.

Italy

Like Austria and Spain, the residency requirement for non-EU nationals to obtain Italian citizenship is a hefty ten years, although there is an alternative route for people who can prove they have Italian heritage through a parent, grandparent, or even great-grandparent. Due to some slightly odd legal clauses on maternal versus paternal heritage, this route can get a little complex, so it’s best to read up on the specific rules before applying.

READ ALSO: How to become Italian: A guide to getting citizenship

For anyone not eligible for this Jure Sanguinis, or ‘citizenship by descent’, the ten-year waiting period is reduced for employees of the Italian state, who can apply after just five years of service. For citizens of another EU state, meanwhile, the residency requirement is reduced to four years. If you happen to have been born in Italy, wherever your parents are from originally, you can apply after three years of living there as an adult.

Other than residency, would-be Italians will have to show that they have intermediate Italian language skills, sufficient financial resources to support themselves and a clean criminal record in order to qualify for an Italian passport. After the process, new Italians are required to swear an oath of allegiance to the state.  

Application Fee: €250

Length of time living in country: 10 years 

Language level needed: B1 Italian 

Dual nationality allowed: Yes

Norway

Much like Denmark, which changed its dual nationality rules in 2015, Norway passed a law in 2020 to allow Norwegians (and foreigners wanting to become Norwegian) to keep another citizenship alongside the Norwegian one. To be eligible for this sought-after passport, migrants have to notch up at least seven years in the country on a valid residence permit – although unlike other countries, Norway’s immigration authorities do allow for some periods of absence.  

After filling in an online application, you’ll have to deliver a series of documents in person, including your birth certificates, marriage certificates (if applicable), a full list of entries into and departures from Norway, at least seven years of tax returns, and a police report certifying “good conduct”. Depending on your previous nationality, you have to achieve either A2 or B1 Norwegian, as well as passing a one-hour citizenship test which can be completed in either of the two written varieties of Norwegian (Bokmål or Nynorsk). 

Application Fee: ~€250 (N0K 2,500)

Length of time living in country: 7 of the past 10 years

Language level needed: A2/B1 Norwegian 

Dual nationality allowed: Yes

Spain

For most people wanting to become Spanish through the naturalisation route, a ten-year legal residency period in Spain and at least a basic level of Spanish are non-negotiable. There are some exceptions to this stringent residency requirement, however, for citizens of Spanish-American countries, Andorra, the Philippines, Equatorial Guinea, Portugal, and those of Sephardic origin, who can be fast-tracked after two years, and for refugees, who can apply after five years. These groups are also allowed to obtain dual nationality, while in most cases new citizens of Spain are required to give up their existing one.

Applicants for naturalisation will need to apply at their local Civil Registry with their birth certificate, marriage certificate (if applicable), and a certificate of good conduct from the police in their country of origin, all of which must be officially translated into Spanish. They’ll also have to provide a certificate of at least A2 Spanish from the Cervantes Institute, as well as completing a multiple-choice citizenship test on aspects of Spanish life and culture. (If you fancy having a go, you can find our version of it here.) The final part of the process (after the application has been accepted) is to swear loyalty to the King and promise to abide by Spain’s laws and constitution. Unfortunately, there are reports stating many Spanish citizenship applications can take two to four years to be processed

Application Fee: €60-100 

Length of time living in country: 10 years 

Language level needed: A2 Spanish

Dual nationality allowed: No

Sweden

In keeping with its liberal reputation, Sweden has some of the most relaxed citizenship laws in Europe, with no language requirement for new Swedes and only a five-year residency period needed to attain citizenship.

For anyone who has been married to or cohabiting with a Swedish partner for at least two years, this can be reduced still further to only three years, although you will be asked to show that you’ve adapted well to Swedish life (through learning the language, for example, but you could also prove this by showing you can support yourself or through the length of your marriage). There is also a quicker process for other Nordic citizens.

You should also be aware that Sweden has pretty strict rules on the definition of ‘continuous residence’, so while short trips abroad are fine, spending more than six weeks abroad in any given year will extend the period of time until you can apply for citizenship. In addition, only time in Sweden under a valid residence permit (for non-EU citizens) counts towards your residence, so if you entered without one and later got one, this initial period of time won’t count. 

While Swedish language skills are not currently a requirement for citizenship, this could also change in the future: in January 2021, the Swedish Ministry of Justice and Migration put forward proposals to introduce an A2 language exam for would-be Swedes, with exceptions for vulnerable individuals who have made a reasonable effort to learn the language. These proposals will be subject to a long political process before they can be put into law, however, so at present you’ll just need to prove your identity, duration of residency in Sweden, and no record or serious criminal offences or debts.

It is also worth being aware that while the time needed in order to be eligible for citizenship is relatively short, processing time is not. The Migration Agency says applicants should expect an average of 39 months between submitting their application and becoming Swedish. Readers of The Local have reported the process taking anywhere between a couple of weeks to over three years.

Application Fee: ~€150 (1,500 SEK) 

Length of time living in country: 5 years 

Language level needed: None 

Dual nationality allowed: Yes

Switzerland

Switzerland’s administrative system and bureaucratic idiosyncrasies can make applying for citizenship just a little complicated (to put it mildly).

While 10 years is the minimum residency requirement in the country as a whole, you may also find that your local area imposes different restrictions on how long you should have lived in that locality – with some Cantons requiring as much as eight years’ residence in that district.

READ MORE: How to apply for Swiss citizenship: An essential guide

To be in with a chance, you’ll need to have decent language skills in at least one of Switzerland’s national languages. This generally means at least A2 written and B1 spoken German, French or Italian, but Cantons are free to impose higher requirements if they wish.

You’ll also need to show a certain level of integration (which again varies depending on your locality), be financially secure (i.e. not reliant on state benefits) for at least three years before applying, and show a clean criminal record with no jailable offences. 

To make matters even trickier, a committee of local residents may also have a say in whether you’re eligible for citizenship, so it’s worth staying friendly with the neighbours if you want to become Swiss.

Applicants are also sometimes asked for specific examples of how they participate in the life of their towns or villages, and what local organisations they belong to.

Being a member of local choirs or volunteer fire brigades is particularly valued, as it demonstrates the willingness to be part of, and contribute to, their local communities.

This may explain why some people who seemingly qualify for Swiss citizenship because they have lived in the country for a long time, speak the language, and are gainfully employed, are turned down by local authorities.

One such example was a British café owner in canton Schwyz, who was denied citizenship after failing to answer a question about the origins of a Swiss cheese dish, raclette. 

READ MORE: How much does it cost to become a Swiss citizen?

Another well publicised example was a Dutch woman living in Aargau, whose first attempt to get a Swiss passport was turned down because she complained about the noise of cow bells in her village.

In 2020, an Italian man was denied Swiss citizenship because he failed questions on the test about animals in the local zoo. The decision was however overturned by a federal court. 

Application Fee: €90 (100 CHF) on a federal level, plus Canton fees

Length of time living in country: 10 years 

Language level needed: A2/B1 German, Italian or French

Dual nationality allowed: Yes

Other European countries

Belgium

Alongside Sweden and France, Belgium has some of the lowest barriers to citizenship in Europe. To be eligible for Belgian citizenship, you’ll need to have been registered at an address in Belgium for at least five years, show knowledge of one of the national languages in Belgium (Dutch, German or French) and demonstrate ‘economic participation’ in the country, which essentially means having paid taxes and other social security contributions for at least a few years.

Application Fee: €50

Length of time living in country: 5 years 

Language level needed: A2 French, Dutch or German 

Dual nationality allowed: Yes

The Netherlands 

Like Germany and Spain, the Netherlands has rules against dual nationality, meaning you’ll be asked to renounce your current citizenship if you want to become Dutch. If you do decide to take the plunge, you’ll need to have lived in the country for five consecutive years, taken the civic integration exam, and be prepared to declare your solidarity with the Dutch state at the final citizenship ceremony. 

Application Fee: €925

Length of time living in country: 5 years 

Language level needed: A2 Dutch 

Dual nationality allowed: No

Portugal

To become Portuguese, you’ll need basic language skills and at least six years of continuous residence in the country. In addition, you’ll need to provide your passport, birth certificate, a list of countries previously resided in, and a criminal record certificate with no serious convictions listed. 

Application Fee: €200

Length of time living in country: 6 years 

Language level needed: A2 Portuguese 

Dual nationality allowed: Yes

United Kingdom & Ireland 

Ireland

Since the end of the Brexit transition period in January 2021, Ireland has had a unique status as the one nationality with the automatic right to live and work freely in both the UK and the EU. Equally, anyone born in Northern Ireland to British or Irish parents is entitled to both a UK and an Irish passport if they wish, giving them an automatic route to EU citizenship. Like Italy, there’s also an ancestral route to citizenship, meaning those with Irish parents or grandparents are entitled to an Irish passport under most circumstances. 

For everyone else, the process of becoming Irish is pretty straightforward, with just five years’ residence required. Nevertheless, the cost of obtaining a certificate of naturalisation is eye-wateringly high, so you may need to wait until you have a bit of spare cash before going ahead with the process. 

Application Fee: €175 on application, €950 if approved 

Length of time living in country: 5 years 

Language level needed: None 

Dual nationality allowed: Yes

United Kingdom 

To be eligible for UK citizenship, you’ll need to have lived in the UK for at least five years, have passed the ‘life in the UK’ test and be able to prove that you have at least an intermediate grasp of English.

At more than £1,300, the application fees are by far the highest of any European country, so you’ll need to be financially stable to apply. 

Application Fee: £1330

Length of time living in country: 5 years 

Language level needed: B1 English 

Dual nationality allowed: Yes 

Member comments

  1. Norway and Switzerland, although both have signed up to agreements with the EU, are not actually EU member states. If the aim is to get freedom of circulation throughout the EU thanks to either of these nationalities, best check beforehand to see what has been agreed.

  2. We had an the baffling experience recently of trying to claim Polish citizenship for my husband whose grandmother was forced to flee Poland in the 1930s. According to Polish law, this ancestry means that he should be considered Polish and eligible for citizenship BUT we were told when we contacted a Polish citizenship lawyer that this only applies to male lineage! In other words, if it had been his grandfather and not his grandmother who had been Polish, he would be eligible but, for unknown reasons, female ancestors are not treated the same way. I would love to know if this would stand up to a legal challenge, or if there are other circumstances/facts we’re unaware of.

    1. Italy has a similar law, but it does not stand up to legal challenges and thousands of people get their citizenship through a “judicial” process.

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COVID-19 RULES

Covid-19 third wave: Which countries in Europe have the tightest restrictions?

Many countries across Europe are ramping up restrictions to try to stem a new wave of Covid-19 infections that has once again left hospitals struggling to cope. But different countries are using different strategies to tackle the virus surge and some countries are even easing measures.

Covid-19 third wave: Which countries in Europe have the tightest restrictions?
Many European countries have extended and toughened restrictions in a bid to halt coronavirus transmission and prevent virus variants believed to be more contagious from propagating in the country. Tobias Schwarz / AFP

Due to the spring surge in the pandemic, propelled mainly by the spread of new more contagious and more deadly variants, European countries have been forced to impose new measures or delay the easing of restrictions.

While there are similar aspects to some European government’s strategies there are also big differences. Here’s an overview of the restrictions and state of play across most western European countries.

Germany – New lockdown for ‘a new pandemic’

After a marathon 13 hours of talks between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and 16 state leaders, the country decided to reinforce its strictest shutdown since the start of the pandemic a year ago.

“Essentially, we have a new virus…it is much deadlier, much more infectious and infectious for much longer,” Merkel said.

As well as extending existing measures including keeping cultural, leisure and sporting facilities shut through to April 18th, Merkel and Germany’s 16 state premiers agreed a tougher shutdown over Easter.

During the Easter holidays between April 1st and 5th, all private gatherings are capped at two households of up to five people, plus children under 14 and supermarkets will remain closed, only opening their doors on Easter Saturday. 

In general bars and restaurants will remain closed until April 18th, and schools and non-essential shops will close in areas with a 7-day incidence rate of more than 100 new infections per 100,000 people.

Originally the much-anticipated federal-state meeting was planned to discuss further loosening Germany’s lockdown measures, which have been in effect – and continually extended – since the beginning of November. In the first week of March, hair salons, flower shops and home appliance stores reopened for the first time since December, and many breathed a sigh of relief in the hopes that other relaxations would soon be on the way.

Yet over the past couple of weeks, Germany has seen a surge in new cases, largely due to virus variants. The nationwide 7-day incidence jumped to 108.1 cases per 100,000 residents on Tuesday, up from about 60 just two weeks prior. 

France – Curfew and a new ‘lockdown light’

France’s national 7-day incidence rate stands 307.8, but this hides big regional variations between areas like Finistère in western Brittany where case numbers are very low – giving an incidence rate of 76.8 – and the Parisian suburb of Seine-Saint-Denis which has a worrying rate of 683 cases per 100,000 people.

Because of this France, which has run a national strategy for the majority of the past year, has decided to impose regional restrictions, putting 16 of the country’s 96 mainland départements on what is being termed “lockdown light”. Other hard-hit départements will likely follow in the coming days or weeks.
 
Life for the residents of these areas, which includes the whole of the greater Paris region, is a lot less restricted than it was during previous lockdowns, but non-essential shops are closed, travel to another region is forbidden and people are urged only to meet up outdoors. Schools, however, remain open.
 
Across the whole of France a 7pm-6am curfew remains in place and bars, cafés, theatres, restaurants, cinemas and tourist sites are closed. Face masks are still obligatory in public places indoors and outside in most of the main towns, cities and frequented areas.
 
The government hopes that the regionalised “lockdown light” will be enough to relieve the pressure on hospitals in the worst hit areas while the much-maligned French vaccine rollout belatedly gathers speed. 
 
 
Sweden – ‘The key is for people to follow the rules’
 
Sweden, where the incidence rate is 604 per 100,000 ( this is measured over the last 14 days – click here for the comparison rates between EU countries) has mostly relied on fewer of the strict, legal measures seen elsewhere, but that has partially changed over recent months.

 
Some of the measures introduced since December include reducing the maximum number of people allowed at public events to eight; ordering all restaurants, cafes and bars to close no later than 8.30pm; and introducing caps on customer numbers at shops, gyms and sports facilities to a maximum of one per ten square metres of usable space. All of these are regulated by law, and businesses or event organisers found violating them can face fines.
 
Restaurants, bars, and non-essential businesses are still open however, and the number of people you may meet privately is not regulated beyond recommendations to limit socialising to “a smaller circle”. Domestic travel may still go ahead if carried out in “an infection-safe way” authorities have said, meaning keeping a distance from others on the journey and at the destination and planning how to get home if you fall ill. 
 
Masks were for a long time not recommended for use by the public in Sweden but currently they are recommended on public transport during rush hour. Several regions have gone further and urged residents to wear them at all times on public transport as well as in other indoor environments where crowding could occur, but reports show uptake has been low.
 
Sweden’s prime minister has issued stern warnings to the population, saying “more people need to do more” but authorities have so far chosen not to introduce further measures, saying the key thing is for people to follow those currently in place.
 
Italy – Country divided into orange and red zones
 
The whole of Italy has been under tightened restrictions since Monday, with roughly half the country a medium-risk “orange zone” and the rest a high-risk “red zone”. 
 
It’s the second time in two weeks that Italy has toughened the rules, after Prime Minister Mario Draghi sounded the alarm over a “new wave” of coronavirus infections two weeks ago. 
 
Italy’s national seven-day incidence rate to March 18th was 264 new cases per 100,000 people. Any of the country’s regions with a local incidence rate of more than 250 cases per 100,000 residents automatically go into lockdown. 
 
The new rules means travel is heavily restricted: in orange zones, people aren’t allowed to leave their own towns without an urgent reason, while in red zones you’re supposed to stay in your own home except for essentials.
 
All bars and restaurants are closed except for takeaway or delivery, as are museums, galleries, cinemas, theatres and other cultural sites. 
 
Schools are mostly open in orange zones, but are running fully remote learning in red zones.
 
The government says the restrictions will last until at least Easter, when the whole of Italy will enter lockdown over the holiday weekend. Beyond that, we’ll have to wait and see what the numbers say.
 
Norway – New national restrictions in place for Easter
 
Covid-19 infections are increasing in Norway with the 14-day incidence rate per 100,000 standing at 175.
In Norway there are restrictions at both local and national level. Oslo and Viken county, for example, were recently placed under stricter measures than the rest of the country. “We have never before seen such a high level of recorded cases,” said the capital’s executive mayor Raymond Johansen.
 
The country announced on Tuesday new national restrictions which will be in place over the upcoming Easter holidays.

A limit of two guests at private homes and a national ban on businesses serving alcohol are among new measures to be put in place by the government.

They also include a ban on organised indoor sports and leisure activities for adults, while the one-metre social distancing guideline has been increased to two metres.
 
 
Under the new restrictions, all persons returning to Norway after non essential foreign travel must isolate in quarantine hotel for 10 days and may not leave quarantine early on testing negative for Covid-19.
 
The Easter holidays in Norway normally see many people travel across the country on skiing trips, to visit family or friends or to stay at their country homes and cabins. But the government has now asked all non-essential travel to be avoided. Students traveling to family residences and households traveling together to stay at cabins are permitted.
 
Austria – Lockdown extended until after Easter

Austria on Monday decided to extend its coronavirus lockdown until after Easter, scrapping a plan to loosen certain measures from March 27th. 

The seven-day incidence rate is 240.4 per 100,000 people.

The number is now highest in the states of Vienna (321.9) and Salzburg (300.3). The value is lowest in Vorarlberg (66.7), Carinthia (187.1) and Styria (187.3).

Currently, strict measures apply to all of the country other than the western state of Vorarlberg, including a nighttime stay-at-home order, along with the closure of bars, restaurants and leisure facilities. 

EXPLAINED: What are Austria’s current coronavirus lockdown rules?

In Austria, hairdressers and cosmetic services may open, however people are required to show a negative Covid test which is less than 48 hours old.

Schools are open for face-to-face classes in Austria, however they can be closed in regions or municipalities experiencing a surge in infections or mutations of the virus. 

In the state of Vorarlberg things are more relaxed – pubs and restaurants are allowed to open indoors and outdoors, while events with up to 100 people have been allowed take place since March 15th

The nationwide measures are set to apply until after Easter, upon which a regional approach will be adopted. 

Switzerland – Lockdown measures extended instead of eased
 
Switzerland on Friday decided to extend the majority of the country’s lockdown measures in order to fight the “third wave” of the coronavirus. 

 
Swiss authorities had promised several measures would be relaxed from Monday, March 22nd, including opening restaurant terraces, allowing indoor sports and approving small crowds for cultural and sporting events. 

 
However, Swiss Health Minister Alain Berset called for the country to be patient amid rising infection rates, saying the existing rules would remain in place until at last April 14th
 
The government did however decide to relax one measure on Friday, the limit on the amount of people who can meet indoors has been raised to ten, up from the previous limit of five. 
 
In addition to a mask requirement in all indoor public spaces, Switzerland’s current measures include the closure of restaurants, bars, and cafés, except for takeout and food delivery services. Swiss workers are also obliged to work from home wherever this is possible. Schools in Switzerland have remained open since the summer, despite calls for their closure during a spike in infections in autumn. 
 
Switzerland currently has a seven-day average incidence rate of 115.8 per 100,000 residents, with the number of new cases per week increasing gradually since mid-February.
 
Elsewhere the Netherlands is also still in the middle of an extended lockdown which has forced the closure of bars, restaurants, non-essential stores and gyms. The measures were set to be extended on Tuesday. Belgium was also recently forced to pause its plan to ease restrictions due to a new rise in cases.
 
But restrictions are not tightening in all countries across Europe. In some measures are being eased, albeit with great care.
 
Denmark – Plan announced to ease restrictions

Unlike a lot of other countries in Europe, Denmark is in a phase of easing restrictions and has just announced a plan to lift many of the rules currently in place over the next two months.

The country’s current incidence rate according to the ECDC is 161.07 cases per 100,000 residents. The number of people hospitalised with the virus is under 200 nationally and has been stable for several weeks, as have daily infection numbers. Just under 11 percent of the population has received a first vaccine dose. 

Schools are currently partially open, the first part of society to see closures reversed following a lockdown implemented in December. Shops have also reopened this month, with the exception of large stores, which operate on an appointment basis, and malls and department stores.

Cinemas, theatres, bars and restaurants remain closed and the public assembly limit is currently 10 people outdoors or 50 for organised sports activities. 

The reopening plan, announced on Monday night, sets out the gradual lifting of most restrictions at two-weekly intervals, providing infections stay under control and vaccines are delivered as expected. The use of vaccine passports forms part of that plan.

The government says it plans for the majority of restrictions to be lifted once all people over 50 have been vaccinated against the virus. The current vaccination programme will see this point reached by the end of May.

Spain – Restrictions easing and tourists ‘welcome’ to return

In Spain, where Covid restrictions are mainly decided on a regional basis, there has been a general easing of the rules across the country in recent weeks as a result of falling infection rates overall. 

Lighter measures include allowing travel between municipalities/provinces and better opening hours and capacity limits for shops, bars and restaurants. 

However, people in Spain will have to spend Easter at home or close by as all regional borders will remain closed for the holiday period in a bid to prevent a spike in cases as occurred after the Christmas period. 

On the other hand, international tourists (mostly from the EU) will be allowed to visit Spain over Holy Week as long as they provide a negative Covid test and fill in a health form beforehand. They will also have to follow the restrictions in place in the part of Spain where they stay.

This arrangement is a matter of much debate in Spain currently, with some critics arguing Spaniards are being granted fewer rights than foreign visitors, and that opening up to mass tourism now could result in the fourth wave and consequently a tightening of restrictions that could be disastrous for Spain’s all-important summer season. 

Spain’s 14-day infection rate currently stands at 128 cases per 100,000 inhabitants. 

Elsewhere in Europe…

Elsewhere in Europe, England is currently at the beginning of a four-step plan to ease lockdown.

Schools are open and if all goes to plan pubs will open their outdoor areas next month. The plan could see all legal limits on social contact lifted by June 21st, if strict conditions are met. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland also have their own plans to ease restrictions. 

After a strict post-Christmas lockdown enforced to ease pressure on overrun hospitals, Portugal has also now begun easing restrictions. By the beginning of May it plans to open all bars and restaurants even for indoor dining.

Ireland is also set to ease its lockdown in April after reopening schools in March.
 
 
 
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