Holidaymakers to and from the European continent are being warned of a growing incidence of coronavirus, particularly in tourist hotspots, which is likely to hamper travel plans.
Health officials are in some cases calling for a reintroduction of face masks and other measures, and urging travelers to exercise personal responsibility, warning that an escalation in the virus could lead to the rapid return of restrictions.
Greece, Spain, France and Germany – as well as more distant destinations such as the Caribbean islands, Morocco and Tunisia – are all seeing a significant increase in cases.
As holidaymakers study national coronavirus infection rates before embarking on their trips, despite difficulties in making comparisons due to the different ways nations test, those who have not yet been fully vaccinated – with a double dose and one or two booster shots, depending on their age or risk factors – are advised by healthcare professionals to obtain the recommended protection before travelling.
Greece is among the countries to have reported an increase in cases in recent weeks. Those most affected at present are people between the ages of 18 and 24, and cases are most concentrated in popular tourist regions, the Greek health ministry said. Last weekend, around 11,700 new infections were reported within 24 hours, nearly triple the previous week.
The number of new infections on the islands of Corfu, Kefalonia and Zakynthos in the Ionian Sea has increased in recent weeks. Crete, the Attica region including the Greek capital Athens, the South Aegean including islands such as Mykonos and Paros, as well as the islands of Rhodes and Kos are also very much on the radar. authorities.
Greece abolished the majority of its coronavirus measures in May. However, face masks are still mandatory in public indoor spaces, including hospitals as well as on public transport and cruise ships.
Experts across Europe also speak of a high number of unreported or under-reported cases, as the legal obligation to report infections in many places has been dropped.
Across Spain, cases are up more than 60% from last month, although they are still only a fraction of what they were at the start of the year. The virus is particularly felt on the islands of Mallorca, Ibiza, Menorca and Formentera, favorite destinations for the British, Germans and Scandinavians. Doctors there have called the current level ‘alarming’, with local media reporting that a boundless appetite for concentrated gatherings to party, after years of pandemic restrictions, is creating ‘idyllic’ conditions for the spread of the highly contagious variant of Omicron BA.5, which is helping to fuel a new wave.
Currently, 80% of all infections are of the BA.5 variety, according to Antonio Oliver, chief virologist at Son Espases Hospital, Mallorca’s largest hospital. He said his experience mirrored what was happening on the Spanish mainland as well as in the Canary Islands.
Infected people are no longer required to self-isolate in Spain, but the requirement to wear a mask in indoor public spaces and on public transport remains in place.
On a positive note, Oliver said as the region experienced its seventh wave, “it is true that this wave is less visible than was the case with previous episodes of infection.” He attributed this to two main reasons: vaccines mean that the number of serious illnesses is lower, and the authorities no longer closely control the systematic spread of the disease. The seven-day incidence rate is now only assessed for those over 60, who are statistically much more likely to end up being treated for their symptoms in hospital.
Nationwide in Spain, around 10,000 people are currently being treated for Covid-19, representing 8% of all hospital bed capacity. This is very low compared to when the virus was at its peak, but still high enough to cause considerable pressure on resources.
France has recorded a growing number of cases, up almost 80% in just over two weeks. But a reintroduction of restrictions has no popular support. The requirement to wear a face mask was recently scrapped, although Health Minister Brigitte Bourguignon called for people’s “civic duty” to continue to do so on public transport and other crowded places .
Italy has seen a record number of cases in five months and continues to insist on mask-wearing on public transport. Roberto Speranza, the Minister of Health, urged those infected to “do their duty” and stay at home.
Portugal is considered a higher-risk destination after a rise in cases, and travelers are still required to show proof of being vaccinated, tested or recovered and to wear masks. The seven-day incidence rate remains high compared to most neighboring countries, at 1,150 per 100,000 population.
As cases rise in Germany due to the spread of the BA.5 Omicron subvariant, Covid deaths currently number around 500 per week, which health authorities describe as an unacceptable level. Cases in intensive care units are up 12% from a week ago.
German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach, who is renowned for his blunt statements on the virus, said that while he hoped the summer holidays would lead to his confinement, it was also to be expected that the country must be prepared for some of the “very serious variants” that would return from abroad with holidaymakers and be felt in the fall.
People are urged to adopt a new vaccine designed to deal with the Omicron variant from September. The German Chancellor, Olaf Scholz, did not hesitate to admit that wearing a mask could become compulsory again in the coming autumn and winter. Currently in Germany people are required to wear FFP2 medical masks on public transport and in hospitals and medical practices. Those infected must self-isolate for at least five days, after which they are free to leave their homes if they test negative.
German and Austrian holidaymakers concerned that their holiday could be disrupted by illness or virus-related cancellations are advised to take out travel cancellation insurance against the coronavirus. Such uncertainty is likely to fuel domestic tourism again across Europe.
Anke Herrmann, owner of a travel agency in Leipzig, said the insurance was proving particularly popular with customers traveling in the Mediterranean and helping people already nervous about booking due to the virus to go from before. “Some people are understandably scared as well because of the war in Europe and rising inflation – they wonder if they should do it at all,” she said.
Michael Stürmer, a virologist from Frankfurt, said most people no longer need to worry about the course of the disease if they get sick, but rather about the risk of getting stuck. “Those flying should be as consistent as possible in wearing a mask and avoiding crowds,” he told broadcaster Hessenschau. “It’s hard to do much more than that. You just need to be aware of the risks and the fact that it can easily backfire.
Christian Drosten, a virologist who played a leading role in explaining the virus to Germans, warned against advice being spread via social media urging people to deliberately catch the virus in the summer in order to be immune to it. him during the harsher winter months. .
“It’s total nonsense,” he told Der Spiegel. “You will never manage to infect as many people in the summer as it would keep the cases low in the winter anyway… No one should be infected deliberately, this should continue to be avoided as much as possible, especially because of the risk of long Covid.
Drosten said that, for his part, he would enjoy a camping vacation.