Coronavirus: confusion over lack of co-ordination as Europe lifts lockdown

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - As the European Union moved to re-open its borders to tourists this week, mixed messages, queues and chaos followed as inconsistencies and double standards became apparent in national coronavirus responses.

Since Monday, travellers have been able to move freely between most of the 22 EU countries in the Schengen area, but some, including Spain, have decided to keep restrictions in place.

European Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson has urged Schengen members to lift as many restrictions as possible to allow summer holidays to restart in July.

Unlike other members of the EU, Spain has said it will not allow any foreign visitors until June 21.

This includes visitors from Britain, which has left the EU, but Spain’s Foreign Minister, Arancha González Laya, said on Tuesday that her country was considering introducing a quarantine rule for Britons when it re-opens its borders.

Spain’s move was in response to a similar policy introduced last week by the UK. France will also maintain a quarantine policy for British travellers in response to the measures.

"We will be in a dialogue with the UK to see whether or not we should be introducing reciprocity as they have different measures than the rest of the European Union," Ms Laya told the BBC on Tuesday.

Both Spain and Britain have been hit hard by the pandemic, with Covid-19 claiming about 42,000 lives in the UK and close to 27,000 in Spain. Britain has the third highest coronavirus death toll after Brazil and the United States.

Sweden is the only EU country to have adopted the controversial herd-immunity strategy in which stringent lockdown measures have not been imposed, allowing the virus to spread to at least 60 per cent of the population who then build up immunity to it.

Police officers wearing face masks and gloves patrol at Red Square in central Moscow, amid the outbreak of COVID-19, caused by the novel coronavirus. Russian President rescheduled a Red Square military parade postponed from May 9. It will be held on June 24, a week before the constitutional vote. AFP

Sue Stamp, manager of the ladies department, fits a young girl with a new pair of shoes from under a perspex screen after opening on the first day of business since the coronavirus lockdown at W.J. French and Son, a long-established shoe-fitting shop in Southampton, on the south coast of England as some non-essential retailers reopen from their coronavirus shutdown. AFP

People enjoy a sunny day at Bornitsky quarry in the Leningrad region, amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. AFP

Waiters gather for a briefing in Lyon, on the re-opening day of the Brasserie Georges, as part of the easing of lockdown measures taken to curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. AFP

A visitor looks at penguins swimming, at the London Zoo on the first day of its reopening since lockdown restrictions ease, during the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) disease in London, Britain. REUTERS

Participants on the beach wear masks as San Diego's Junior Lifeguard Program officially reopens with new protocols in place to comply with county health guidelines for novel coronavirus safety during the outbreak of COVID-19 in San Diego, California, U.S. REUTERS

Residents of Cieszyn take part in a 'Silent Protest' on the Friendship Bridge, in Cieszyn, Poland. Residents of Polish town of Cieszyn, on the border with Czech republic, took part in a 'silent' protest against Czech authorities decision of closing the border for the inhabitants of the Silesian Voivodeship in Poland, due to large numbers of coronavirus infections in the region. EPA

Buckets, some of them filled with water provided by a government tanker truck, stand in the living room of a house in the Petare neighborhood of Caracas, Venezuela. Water shortages have continued to deepen in Venezuela at a time when the threat of the coronavirus makes washing hands even more critical. AP Photo

A student enters his public school classroom for the first time in three months since the lockdown to curb the spread of the new coronavirus pandemic in Montevideo, Uruguay. AP Photo

A German tourist sunbathes on the beach of Palma de Mallorca, Spain. Borders opened up across Europe on Monday after three months of coronavirus closures that began chaotically in March. But many restrictions persist, it's unclear how keen Europeans will be to travel this summer and the continent is still closed to Americans, Asians and other international tourists. AP Photo

Visitors wearing protective masks walk through the Senayan City shopping mall during its reopening after being closed for weeks due to the large-scale restrictions imposed to curb the spread of the new coronavirus outbreak, in Jakarta, Indonesia. AP Photo

Bolivian musicians, artisans, and embroiderers who returned to the center of La Paz to play their instruments, sing and show their work in textiles to demand to the Bolivian transitional government to restore the Ministry of Cultures, which became dependent on the Education portfolio, in La Paz, Bolivia. EPA

Although all Europeans are welcome in Sweden, it is not reciprocal given the country’s coronavirus strategy and high death rate.

Britons also remain barred from visiting some other EU countries that had opened their borders to other members of the bloc.

EU members may feel vindicated after New Zealand ended on Tuesday its 24-day streak of no new coronavirus cases. The two new cases are women from the same family, both of whom had travelled from the UK and were given special permission to visit a grieving parent.

Greece has extended the ban on UK arrivals for another two weeks. After Greece opened its borders yesterday, long queues of cars formed at Bulgaria’s Makaza and Kulata checkpoints on the Greek border.

Tourism and travel executives are outraged that the UK has refused to take part in an EU-led data-sharing project to reboot tourism as lockdowns lift.

The European Commission launched an app and a website that allows travellers to view real-time information about coronavirus rules and infection rates in each country. The information includes border policies, transport options and health and safety measures, such as the wearing of face masks.

Paul Charles, chief executive of travel consultancy the PC Agency, told The Guardian that the UK side-stepping the platform meant it gave the impression the country was “closed for business”.

“Not providing information about how visitors can easily travel around the UK is worrying because it shows a country that wishes to be isolated,” he said.

“In the coronavirus crisis, countries have to be as open and communicative as possible about what visitors can see and expect to do, so I would urge the UK to reconsider.”

A fresh outbreak of Covid-19 in Beijing has highlighted the vigilance countries need to take when re-opening amid the pandemic.

Authorities in the Chinese capital have described the new outbreak as “extremely severe” after more than 100 new cases were reported and travel restrictions were imposed.

Updated: June 16, 2020 06:23 PM

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