Europe’s Summer in Peril as France Warns on Spain, Portugal
(Bloomberg) -- France is warning its citizens against vacationing in Spain and Portugal in the latest sign that the rapid spread of the delta variant of Covid-19 could wreck Europe’s summer.
With the migration of tens of thousands of holidaymakers already underway on the continent, European Affairs Minister Clement Beaune issued a “message of caution” and advised those who haven’t yet booked to go elsewhere or vacation domestically.
The comments come as European Union countries introduce vaccination certificates intended to make travel easier. But the delta strain and the pickup in virus infections are hindering the reopening, with some governments delaying plans to ease restrictions, or even reintroducing them in some hotspots. And as countries look to move past the pandemic, new figures spell out the ongoing human cost, with the global death toll passing 4 million.
Spain and Portugal have the highest 14-day case notification rate in Europe after Cyprus, according to data from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. Both countries rely heavily on tourism and Beaune’s warning could put fledgling recoveries at risk.
“The situation is particularly worrying, especially in Portugal,” Beaune said on France 2 TV. The government will discuss the situation Monday and could take action including border checks and local restrictions to try to stem the spread of the virus.
The U.K. has already seen a jump in Covid cases, though the government there is pressing on with its reopening plans. In the EU, the increased threat of a new wave of infections is coinciding with an apparent slowdown in vaccination rates in some member states. As virus hotspots emerge, worried government officials have stepped up warnings about delta as well as the need to get inoculated.
The Spanish region of Catalonia -- a magnet for tourists with its capital Barcelona -- currently has a 14-day infection rate of 290 per 100,000 people, compared with a national average of 118.5. The Balearic Islands, popular with German and British holidaymakers, have a rate of 191.5. Two weeks ago the rate in Catalonia was 46.3 and in the Balearics it was 36.
In a report on the economy on Wednesday, the European Commission also made a plea for faster vaccinations, saying that risks from the spread of variants “underscore the importance of further picking up the pace.”
Portugal the same day reported 3,285 new Covid-19 cases, the highest daily figure since Feb. 11. The latest figures are still a fraction of the daily record of more than 16,000 cases reported at the end of January, when the country faced one of the world’s worst outbreaks.
Meanwhile, Greece’s new virus cases are rising at the fastest pace since early June, and the government plans to announce mandatory vaccinations for some workers next week. It’s already re-tightened measures at venues such as clubs and bars after a jump in cases among younger adults who frequent such places, and may introduce further curbs in the coming days.
Still, the European Travel Commission expects travel activity to continue building momentum as the peak of the tourist season approaches thanks to increasing vaccinations and further easing of restrictions.
“Europe is now managing the Covid risks well both for locals and our long-awaited travelers,” Luis Araujo, president of the industry body, said in a statement Thursday. “We therefore believe that safe travel is possible this summer.”
Meanwhile, British travelers who have received both doses of a coronavirus vaccine will no longer need to isolate when they return home from moderate risk countries, under a plan officials expect to come into force this month.
U.K. ministers have been working on an overhaul of pandemic rules for foreign trips to give more freedom to fully vaccinated passengers returning to England from destinations on the government’s “amber list.”
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