Spain, Portugal, Greece, Cyprus and Malta were among the first countries to start reopening earlier this year, but they are now tightening entry restrictions for holidaymakers who haven’t received the two most vaccines. most used – Pfizer and AstraZeneca.
France and Germany warn citizens against holidays in Spain and Portugal. And Germany has added Cyprus to its list of “countries of concern” – unvaccinated Germans who visit the island will have to self-isolate when they return home.
The piecemeal measures by national governments mirror what happened last year when national governments avoided calls from Brussels to act collectively and tested the Schengen agreement on free movement.
Suddenly announced restrictions are also adding to the woes of the continent’s airline, tourism and hospitality industries. They had hopes of a strong rebound in business over the next two months, enough to begin to repair the severe economic damage the pandemic has inflicted on them.
They fear an ever-changing patchwork of restrictions, slowing demand, a fate for many tour operators and hotels that have managed to hang on and stay in business. But national governments’ reimposing entry rules do not repent of the tightening soon after deciding to relax measures and encourage travel.
“We all want to go on vacation, but health protection is fundamental,” French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Friday at a press conference in Madrid.
French officials, like their counterparts in neighboring countries, fear a delta wave even though the number of coronaviruses currently in much of the continent is low, fearing a massive increase in numbers just like Britain has seen in recent weeks.
Rising infection rate
“This variant is dangerous and fast and wherever it is present, it can spoil the summer,” Gabriel Attal, a spokesperson for the French government, told reporters on Friday. Infections in Paris have almost doubled in a week.
The European Center for Disease Prevention and Control has issued a series of warnings, claiming that the Delta variant is 60% more transmissible than the other variants.
“Based on the available scientific evidence, the Delta variant is more transmissible than other circulating variants, and we estimate that by the end of August it will account for 90% of all SARS-CoV-2 viruses. circulating in the European Union ”, declared the director of ECDC. Andrea Ammon recently said in a statement.
The fear is that the delta variant could spread quickly among the unvaccinated. According to ECDC, around 40% of the adult population in EU countries has not been fully vaccinated. According to national health authorities, the delta variant already accounts for more than half of new cases in Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium.
Italian health authorities have reported a slight increase in new confirmed cases. The Italian Ministry of Health estimates that the delta variant accounts for around a third of new cases. “After 15 consecutive weeks of descent, there is a 5% increase in new cases compared to the previous week,” according to Dr Nino Cartabellotta of Fondazione GIMBE, an independent medical think tank.
Writing in a surveillance report released on Friday, Cartabellotta stressed, however, that the number of tests performed is “too low”, leading, he suspects, to an “underestimation of new cases”. The health ministry reported 1,390 new cases of coronavirus on Friday.
Brussels and ECDC urge national governments to spend their immunization programs.
On Saturday, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the EU had delivered enough coronavirus vaccines to cover 70% of the bloc’s adult population. But she said with Delta now accounting for over 40% of new cases in France, 70% in Portugal and over 30% in Spain, there is no room for complacency.
“COVID-19 is not yet defeated. But we are ready to continue providing vaccines, ”Von der Leyen said in a video statement.
Last week, Lithuania announced the reintroduction of restrictions on overseas arrivals. Arrivals from countries deemed “high risk”, EU or others, will now have to follow strict testing and quarantine procedures. Slovakia is also tightening entry rules, not based on countries’ coronavirus risk but whether travelers have been vaccinated or not.
Belgium plans this week to announce new measures for arrivals from Portugal, consisting of testing ten-day quarantines for the unvaccinated.
Aside from Portugal, northern European alarm is increasingly focused on Spain, among the first countries in Europe to reopen to tourists earlier this year. The 14-day case rate in the country has climbed to 215 cases per 100,000 population. In response, authorities in the northeastern region of Catalonia ordered nightclubs and discos closed, weeks after allowing them to resume their activities.