The World Opens Up, Gradually

Global News and Perspectives

A few months ago, when COVID was declared a pandemic, countries all over the world simply shut their doors. As health professionals struggled to deal with the crisis, governments imposed widespread lock downs, confining billions of people to their homes.

Now, even as the jury is still out on what the length of the lock-down should be, some countries are starting to lift restrictions gradually. The worst may or may not be over, and second waves are a huge possibility – but life has to go on. And businesses need to restart.

So, which countries are lifting restrictions and opening up?

New Zealand

New Zealand has recently lowered its COVID-19 alert to Level 2, which allows reopening of schools and other institutions.

Things are slowly returning to normal in the country, but with caution. Shops, restaurants, malls and movie halls have opened. So have some gyms, playgrounds, libraries and museums. Bars have to wait till 21st of May, while schools will open from Monday.

It’s about as normal as things can be right now. There are some ground rules though – social gatherings must be limited to 10 people (including weddings and funerals), and restaurants have to adhere to a safe-spacing rule.
The Kiwis have welcomed the lifting – families have reunited, people have started going out to eat and are lining up for haircuts. The country, which shut its borders on 15th March and went into lock-down on the 25th of March, has managed to keep a lid on the infections till now. Only 1,500 people have got the virus so far, which is pretty commendable. It was a result of some tough measures – only petrol stations, supermarkets and pharmacies were open and only one person in each household was allowed to go out to shop for essentials.

What about students?

Chris Hipkins, New Zealand’s education minister has stated that as long as international students quarantined themselves for two weeks, the travel restrictions ban could be lifted for them. He is hopeful that international education comes back to some sort of normalcy soon. Till now, international students have not been able to enter the country – barring some 75 students who had visas.


On the 8th of May, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison made a statement outlining a three-step-plan to gradually lift some public health and travel restrictions.

Here’s what that plan broadly looks like:

Photo: Federal government of Australia

What does this mean for international students?

According to this plan, international students may be able to travel to Australia this July. There will be rules and restrictions still, which will include post-arrival quarantine and other protocols. What is also important to note is that the student’s country of origin will matter – students from only those countries where the virus has been brought under control will be allowed entry. This could have a ripple effect on the cohort admitted later in 2020 or 2021.

The United States

The US too is opening up gradually. The White House has released guidelines on the reopening, which will be carried out in three phases. It proposes that schools may reopen in “phase two,” along with theaters, religious centers, sporting events and restaurants. The guidelines suggest that states could make the decision after documenting a 28-day decrease of COVID-19 cases and putting in place a strong testing program.

Malls are opening up in some parts of the US, but people seem wary about going in – even though there are new rules about social distancing to make it safer. As for restaurants reopening, it varies from state to state. New York, for instance, is not ready. The criterion for reopening of bars and restaurants is based on a variety of metrics, which have been developed based on guidance from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization, the U.S. Department of State, and other public health experts. These include a decline in hospitalizations and new deaths, testing capacities and bed capacities of the states.

In some states, beaches are opening, for the Memorial Day weekend. A small school in the state of Montana was one of the first to reopen on the 7th of May. Apple says it would open some stores and Disney is starting to open up in Florida.

International travel

It’s not likely to happen anytime soon. There is a temporary ban on most travelers coming from China, Iran and some countries in Europe. On April 20, the United States, along with Mexico and Canada extended restrictions on non-essential travel across their shared borders for another 30 days.

Will universities open this fall?

It’s not clear yet which universities will open and which will not. Many are moving classes online, while some are being optimistic about opening in-person classes this fall with rules on social distancing. The details stated on the college websites (it’s a good idea to look at your college site if you have specific questions about when and how). Boston University, for instance, states that it is “planning to resume its on-campus, residential program in the fall of 2020, following the recommended best health practices around the Coronavirus pandemic. Media reports that the University will not reopen in the fall, and will instead reopen in January 2021, are false”.

The United Kingdom

Boris Johnson addressed to the nation on the 10th of May where he actively encouraged the people to return to work.  He unveiled a conditional plan for the reopening, which is to take place in three steps. The plan was outlined in a document titled, Our Plan To Rebuild:The UK Government’s COVID-19 recovery strategy.

A lot depends on how things pan out. Restaurants, cafes and pubs would be allowed to open in July, given that certain conditions were met. The reopening also depends on a few critical factors like – NHS capacity, a falling death rate, a rate of infection below 1, sufficient PPE, and no risk of a second spike overwhelming the NHS.

Schools will not reopen before the 1st of June and shops could open, again, if some basic conditions were met. Public transport is still not advisable and if used, then social distancing rules are to be followed. As for shops and food outlets, most seem to have opened.

International travel

Travellers are expected to take quarantine measures after arriving into the UK. They will need to self-isolate in either their homes or an accommodation arranged by the government.

Travel guidelines state that all flight passengers should remain 2m (6ft) apart from other people wherever possible. Passengers are also required to follow rules laid out by the travel operator about distancing during the journeys.


Universities are doing all they can to ensure that learning stays on course. Universities UK International states that universities are looking at various scenarios and alternatives with the students’ best interests at heart. The aim is to ensure that international students are able to continue and start their studies as planned.

However, while there’s no decision on whether there will be in-person classes this fall for many universities, universities are making their own independent decisions. Some have announced that they would be postponing the start of the academic year, while others are planning to go ahead.

Research from UKEAS, United Kingdom Education Advisory Service has revealed that students hoping to start university this fall are waiting to see what happens in the UK as well as in their own countries before making a decision.

A lot will depend on how June turns out and if there are any second waves. As lockdowns ease, there are fears that the virus will see resurgence.


Germany has eased some travel restrictions and has announced plans for reopening its borders. This will happen in a staggered manner, on a country-by-country basis. For instance, the border with Luxembourg is now open. The borders with France, Austria and Switzerland too are open and have fewer controls. Business trips and family visits are now allowed. Passengers, however, need to present a completed Public Health Passenger Locator Form upon arrival into Germany.

On the 15th of June a lot more restrictions will be lifted. Germany wants “free travel in Europe” by mid-June with no restrictions on people coming in from its borders. There’s a possibility of entry from other countries as well, though that has not been announced yet.

As the lock-down is eased, life is slowly coming back to normal, with some new rules. Shops and museums are open. Schools have reopened too, as have universities. Germany has been praised for its response in handling COVID, which has led to an interest in choosing the country as a global ed destination.


One of the worst hit by the Coronavirus pandemic, Italy is starting to open again. The government has announced that international travel would be allowed again from June 3. No quarantine is needed for travelers from EU.

Sports centers, gyms and swimming pools will reopen on the 25 May. Cinema halls will reopen on 15 June. However, as parents return to work, schools are still closed and will not open until September.


The country has begun a staggered opening and loosening of restrictions. In some provinces retail shops that are not within malls can start to open, but with physical distancing measures.

Ontario will begin reopening on the 19th of May and lift restrictions on certain retailers and the construction industry. British Columbia too will allow a partial reopening, contingent on the fact that businesses follow guidelines to control the spread of COVID-19.

Here’s more on each province


On-campus classes this fall seem unlikely, as most universities have announced online classes. However, Canada is still accepting applications for international students who have got an approval before March 18th 2020. There has also been a change in Canada’s Post-Graduate-Work-Permit (PGWP) rules. Students are allowed to begin their classes while outside Canada and complete up to 50% of their program via distance learning if they cannot travel to Canada right now.


Travel restrictions are still in place in Canada and they are likely to be extended till June 21st. Only essential travel is being allowed, some of which include: economic services and supply chains, health and safety services, transiting through Canada for essential purpose, taking care of sick family members etc.

Here’s a full update on all countries with border and travel restrictions. For Europe-specific details, look here.

The world, thus, is taking cautious, fearful steps back to normalcy – even as the new normal looks nothing like we’ve seen before. The new world presents itself as distant and dystopian, with images of mask-wearing children sitting sadly apart in classes, buses and lunch rooms; with people wary of each other and with words like PPE, contact-less and social distancing entering our everyday jargon.

It’s an isolated new world.

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