Merkel Urges EU Coordination on Travel Rules as Delta Risks Rise
(Bloomberg) -- German Chancellor Angela Merkel called on the European Union to coordinate rules for travelers from areas with outbreaks of Covid-19 variants as health authorities warn the delta strain could cause a new spike in infections.
“We in Germany and Europe are still walking on thin ice,” Merkel said Thursday in a speech to parliament in Berlin, adding that she will address the issue of travel rules with her EU counterparts “very critically.”
The comments suggest a tense meeting in Brussels, where EU leaders will gather later for the start of a two-day summit to address the pandemic response and other issues, including foreign policy.
The growing threat of the delta variant prompted a fresh warning from the bloc’s disease-prevention agency about the pace of vaccinations and not rushing reopenings. The mutation, first seen in India, is considered even more infectious than the alpha strain and could hamper efforts to overcome the pandemic.
The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control estimates the delta variant will account for 90% of Covid cases by the end of August. It’s already become the dominant strain in some areas, and makes up 60% of cases in Lisbon.
While some member states are keen to open the door to visitors to revitalize battered tourism industries, Merkel urged caution about letting in travelers from outside the bloc.
“It must be done better, especially in an area where freedom of movement is one of the most important and at the same time one of the most sensitive achievements of the European Union,” she said in what was likely her last major address to lawmakers after 16 years as chancellor.
After Merkel spoke, her potential successors addressed the Bundestag in Berlin as they campaign to take her place after September’s election.
In Ireland, where the delta variant accounted for up to 20% of new Covid cases last week, the government will evaluate whether to proceed with the next stage of reopening, planned for July 5, which would include the resumption of indoor service in restaurants and pubs.
Portugal restricted travel to and from the greater Lisbon area during the last weekend following an increase in cases. Earlier in June, the government had already halted a plan to continue to gradually ease confinement measures in the capital.
Greece has so far recorded less than 10 cases of the delta variant and hopes that keeps the country on the tourist agenda of the U.K., where the strain is widespread. Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis asked British Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a meeting at the last NATO summit to treat all EU countries the same when he makes his decision on where to allow holidays.
Germany is pushing to keep up the pace of Covid inoculations to gird against a renewed outbreak and prevent another round of restrictions. Europe’s largest economy has fully vaccinated just over a third of its population, and more than 52% have received at least one shot.
“We want the highest possible level of immunity in the population because that will dictate what our autumn will be like,” Helge Braun, Merkel’s chief of staff, said in an interview with ARD television on Thursday, adding that the delta variant will be the dominant strain in Germany within weeks.
Merkel said that the immunization efforts needs to be extended beyond Europe’s borders to ensure the pandemic is really over.
“We can be cautiously optimistic in Europe, as the infection numbers are clearly receding not only in Germany but in almost all European member states,” she said. “But although there is reason for optimism, the pandemic is not over, and certainly not in poor countries of the world.”
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