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Paris and Berlin are worried about the influx of British tourists to southern Europe and plead for a coordination effort, as the Delta variant of Covid-19 continues its inexorable progression on the continent.
The Delta variant is reviving tensions over the management of the European Union’s (EU) external borders. These divisions, much commented on at the start of the pandemic, resurfaced last week at the last European summit in Brussels. On the one hand, Germany and France want to play the card of caution in the face of the influx of British tourists potentially carrying the Delta variant (formerly the “Indian” variant). On the other hand, southern countries like Spain, Portugal and Greece are keen to save their tourist season.
The German Chancellor criticizes in particular Portugal for having opened its doors too large and too early to British tourists. In mid-May, Portugal had become the only country in the European Union to welcome nationals from across the Channel.
On Friday, faced with the rise in contaminations with the dominant Delta variant, Lisbon was forced to tighten the screws and introduced new health restrictions. The authorities have notably decided to impose a 14-day quarantine on Britons who have not been fully vaccinated.
Spain has also backed down and will once again require a negative PCR test from the British who had been exempt since the end of May.
Like Portugal, Spain rolled out the red carpet for British tourists, who did not even need to present a PCR test unlike European nationals.
But to permanently curb the spread of the Delta variant, which is much more contagious than the Alpha variant (formerly known as “English”), Angela Merkel wants to go further. The Chancellor wants to tighten the conditions of access to the whole of the Schengen area. According to the daily newspaper The Times, the possibility of an EU border closure will be discussed by senior European representatives at a meeting of a crisis committee.
“This European coordination has very little chance of succeeding, however predicts Patrick Martin-Genier, teacher at Sciences-Po Paris and specialist in European issues, joined by France 24. There is here a divergence between the countries which want to preserve the public health and those who want to save their tourist season. “
“It must be said that the countries of southern Europe are those which have suffered the most economically from the effects of the pandemic and that a good part of their economic model is based on tourism”, adds Édouard Simon, research director at the Iris.
The effectiveness of the health passport in question
Another subject of contention between Europeans: the case of Greece, which accepts tourists vaccinated with serums that have not been validated by the European Medicines Agency (EMA). The country, very dependent on tourism, indeed accepts to welcome foreign visitors who have received doses of Russian or Chinese vaccines.
“First, we must all recognize the same vaccines, those authorized by the EMA and fully effective against the latest variants, including the Delta variant. This coordination is also necessary so that our rules are harmonized in terms of openness to third countries; this is the key for the European green pass to be fully effective, “French President Emmanuel Macron insisted on Friday, a few days before the official entry into force of the European Covid certificate, which should facilitate free circulation between EU countries from Thursday.
>> To read on France 24: The health pass, a controversial tool to get out of the Covid-19 crisis
Apart from the four approved vaccines, each member country remains free to receive or not tourists who have received other serums.
“We have seen that even between France and Germany, in particular on the issue of cross-border workers, coordination was not functioning properly. This situation should lead us to believe that health can become a European competence, but it will not be possible only by a reform of the treaties “, analyzes Patrick Martin-Genier.
“There is no health policy in Europe but health policies that you have to know how to coordinate. Which is far from easy at 27”, abounds Édouard Simon. But the positive point is that this debate is possible between European leaders. The proof: Greece ended up taking the point of view of these partners into account. “
On Monday, Greece effectively bowed to pressure from the EU. Now Athens requires a PCR test for Russian tourists, even if they are fully vaccinated with Sputnik V.
Despite these laudable coordination efforts, it is therefore a Europe in dispersed order which is preparing to face the Indian summer promised by all epidemiologists. According to European Center for Disease Prevention and Control, the Delta variant is expected to “represent 90% of Covid-19 cases in the EU by the end of August”.
If the Delta variant is to become dominant, why do some countries want to introduce new travel restrictions? “The idea is to buy time, explains Édouard Simon. We must allow vaccination campaigns to continue to be deployed and we see that this is not won everywhere in Europe.”
Indeed, several Member States are observing a slowdown in the vaccination campaign. In France, more than 400,000 people received a first dose every day at the beginning of June. They were only 200,000 last week.
>> To read on France 24: The advance of the Delta variant reopens the debate on compulsory vaccination
The first scientific data on the effectiveness of vaccines against this Delta variant seem to indicate a very high level of protection. According to a recent study published in Nature magazine on June 10, two doses of Pfizer’s vaccine were estimated to be 87.9% effective. However, scientists agree on one point: receiving a single dose of the vaccine provides only limited protection against the Delta variant.
Today, only one in three Europeans is fully immune. The Commission’s objective remains to vaccinate 70% of the adult population by the end of July.