Europe is trying to stop the spread of the new variants of the coronavirus that are already devastating the health systems of Great Britain and Ireland. The 27 members of the European Union, meeting this Thursday by videoconference, avoided the closure of borders and the strict ban on travel, but will only allow travel that is essential.
The current situation of the pandemic in Europe go back to the worst moments of last year, with almost 10,000 deaths in the last 24 hours of the more than 17,000 worldwide that the World Health Organization estimated on Thursday.
Several countries in the north of the bloc, with Germany and Belgium as outposts, threatened shortly before the summit to close the borders and ban flights. That decision was avoided but in return measures were taken that end any hint of mobility in Europe for now. And that they will be sustained for at least two months with all hopes pinned on vaccines.
These travel restrictions will be applicable at both internal and external borders and are made with the stated objective of stop newer variants of the virus from spreading further. In a document that German diplomacy moved this Thursday, it was said that there was “an urgent need to act to prevent, or at least slow down, the spread of worrying variants of the virus both towards the European Union and within.
The president of the European Commission, Ursula Von der Leyen, and the head of the European Council, Charles Michel, this Thursday in Brussels, where a virtual summit was held on the fight against the pandemic. Photo: EFE
Blow to tourism
Some countries, the most dependent on tourism, wanted to avoid travel restrictions. Among them were Greece, Portugal, Cyprus and Malta, but also a Spain that cannot afford to miss the next summer tourism season.
Spanish President Pedro Sánchez, according to sources from Moncloa, asked during his speech that unilateral measures such as the border closures of March and April last year be avoided.
The European Agency for Disease Prevention and Control issued an alarming report. He called on the Member States to prepare to tighten restrictions on new “highly contagious” variants of the virus.
The document, which focused on making a risk analysis of these new variants – Brazilian, British, Japanese and South African – called for more restrictions, that any non-essential travel be avoided and that governments strengthen hospital care.
The controversial “Covid passports”
The European Union asked the laboratories to speed up the production of vaccines. Photo: AFP
The 27 too reject for now a Greek proposal, backed by the European Commission, to create a kind of “covid passports”, documents that would serve as safe conduct to travel without quarantines or tests to all people who had already received two doses of vaccines. The idea forgot that those vaccinated are not at risk of becoming ill from the coronavirus but in principle they are still contagious.
The debate over the “covid passport” had raged in recent days. The issuance of this kind of certificate to the vaccinated had met with the rejection of the majority of the Member States and had only been clearly defended by Greece, Malta and Portugal.
The agreement will allow a vaccination certificate that the 27 will make in a comparable way but that will not be more than a medical guarantee that will not be valid as a travel document.
The refusal of many Member States, led by France since the proposal began to be discussed, is due to several factors. They consider that it is discriminatory because it would give certain freedoms to some people that it would deny to others who may not have been vaccinated because they could not. They also estimate that it can increase the rejection of anti-vaccines, which they might think is done to force them to prick themselves.
The summit also got pressure on pharmaceutical companies because European health systems are accelerating the rate of vaccinations to the point that laboratory production is not able to keep up.
Governments called on the Commission to require transparency over vaccine deliveries, especially since Pfizer announced earlier this week that it should slow deliveries to make reforms at its Puurs plant in Belgium, the largest in Europe.