The European Union began to shield itself against the United Kingdom on Sunday to try to stop the spread of a new strain of the coronavirus, more contagious, detected in the British Isles and to which the Government of Boris Johnson attributes the rebound in cases of covid-19 in his country. The Dutch Executive of Mark Rutte was the first to ban flights from the UK, from December 20 to January 1.
Throughout the day and during this Monday, 20 EU countries had joined similar vetoes, including Germany, Italy and France (temporarily, for 48 hours), and three non-EU countries: Switzerland, Norway and Russia. The Government of Spain ruled out for the moment canceling flights and announced that it will reinforce the control of PCR tests verification in airports and ports for people arriving from the United Kingdom, while waiting for a common decision for all of Europe.
Given the notification of this new strain, the European Center for Disease Control (ECDC, for its acronym in English) has published a risk assessment this Sunday and accepts the estimates of the United Kingdom, which assure that it may be 70% more contagious.
“This new variant has emerged at a time of year in which the family and social mix has traditionally increased. At this time, there are no signs of a greater severity of the infection, “he says in his report. Urges countries to sequence cases to detect if they correspond to this variant to alert the European early detection system and calls to avoid non-essential travel and social activities.
The recommendation comes four days before Christmas Eve, when most of the Spanish autonomous communities had already announced their Christmas plan. The last was Extremadura, on the same Sunday, which, after exceeding the incidence of 250 cases per 100,000 inhabitants in 14 days, canceled the relaxation of the restrictions it had planned, although it will continue to allow 10 people to sit at the table on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve as long as they are “Relatives, not close friends.”
The cabinet of the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, called on Sunday an emergency meeting by videoconference with representatives of the 27 EU countries to coordinate the reaction to this mutation. There was an exchange of information on the measures that each country is going to adopt regarding the closure with the United Kingdom, the flight ban or PCR obligation. At another meeting called for this Monday, coordination efforts will continue. It is the same day that the European Medicines Agency is scheduled to approve the Pfizer vaccine.
The Spanish government, which had requested the coordination of the member countries, was against taking unilateral decisions by the countries on Sunday. Government sources explained that in this Monday’s meeting they will insist with the rest of the European Union countries on “the need to adopt coordinated measures on flights from the United Kingdom”, although one after another, up to 16 executives joined restrictions throughout the day.
Spain is limited to strengthening the controls of the tests at origin, a measure that Fernando Simón himself, director of the Center for the Coordination of Health Alerts and Emergencies, has on several occasions considered little useful. Meanwhile, the World Health Organization (WHO) asked its members in Europe to “tighten their controls,” according to a spokesman for the agency’s European affiliate to France Presse.
Elvis García, a doctor in Public Health from Harvard University, tells EL PAÍS that the Spanish Government should not wait to cancel flights with the United Kingdom and it seems insufficient to limit itself to requesting PCR tests.
“The problem with this new variant is that if it is confirmed that it is spreading more virulently, the third wave could be much worse than the second, since the Government has enlisted in ‘saving Christmas’ by making schedules more flexible and maintaining hospitality open. If this alteration can teach us something, it is that the virus is ahead of us and if we do not take more drastic measures we will continue to slipstream, that is, we will have more deaths ”, he points out.