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COVID-19 RULES

WHO says Europe can fight virus without lockdowns

Europe can combat the new coronavirus without full lockdowns now that authorities are better prepared and have gained knowledge about how to fight it in recent months, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Thursday.

WHO says Europe can fight virus without lockdowns
A photo showing Lourdes, France during lockdown in April. Photo: AFP

“With the basic nationwide and additional targeted measures, we are in a much better position to stamp out these localised virus flare-ups,” the head of the WHO's European branch, Hans Kluge, told reporters.

“We can manage the virus and keep the economy running and an education system in operation,” he added.

Europe has seen a steady rise in the number of cases for the past two months, he said.

In the first week of August, 40,000 more cases were reported than in the first week of June when cases were at their lowest.

“But we are not in February, we can manage the virus differently now than we did when COVID-19 first emerged,” Kluge said.

In addition to calling for good hand hygiene, social distancing measures and national testing and tracing programmes, the WHO recommended that additional measures be adopted locally when clusters arise.

On average, 26,000 new cases are being reported everyday in Europe, according to the WHO. Young people, who tend to experience milder symptoms and lower mortality rates, account for a growing share of cases.

However, Kluge stressed the importance of reopening schools as countries gradually return to normal, noting the negative consequences that school closures have had on children.

The WHO's European region, which covers 55 countries, has registered almost four million confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 215,000 deaths linked to the virus, according to the organisation.

READ ALSO: European virus surge partly due to relaxed behaviour, WHO expert says

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TRAVEL NEWS

Spain to allow unvaccinated non-EU tourists to enter ‘in matter of days’

Spain’s Tourism Minister on Thursday announced that “in a matter of days” unvaccinated third-country nationals such as Britons and Americans will be able to travel to Spain for a holiday with proof of a negative Covid-19 test. 

Spain to allow unvaccinated non-EU tourists to enter 'in matter of days'

Spanish Tourism Minister Reyes Maroto on Thursday May 19th confirmed that it won’t be long before unvaccinated non-EU/Schengen nationals will be allowed to travel to Spain for non-essential reasons such as tourism, visiting friends or family or spending time in a second home in Spain. 

“It’s a matter of days before we eliminate a restriction that could be discouraging tourists from outside the European Union from visiting us,” Reyes told Spanish radio station Onda Cero.

“And that is that we are going to stop requiring the vaccination certificate and allow them to enter with a negative test”. 

Maroto then stated that this would have to be a PDIA test, which in Spain refers to both PCR and antigen tests. If it’s a negative PCR or similar test (NAAT-type test) it must have been issued less than 72 hours prior to arrival in Spain, or if it’s a negative antigen test, less than 24 hours before arriving in Spain.

The surprise announcement comes just days after Spanish health authorities decided to extend the ban on non-essential travel for unvaccinated non-EU holidaymakers until June 15th

Spain’s current Covid-19 travel restrictions only allow in third-country tourists such as Britons, Americans or Indians who have been fully vaccinated (including a booster shot if initial vaccination was more than nine months before travel) and those who have recovered from Covid-19 in the past six months. 

But for practically the entirety of the pandemic, unvaccinated non-EU tourists have been unable to travel to Spain, with only exceptional reasons for travel allowed. 

Reyes’ comments came about when asked by the Onda Cero interviewer when all of Spain’s Covid-19 travel restrictions will be lifted, as there are still other measures in places such as mask wearing on public transport (including planes) and proof of vaccination, testing or recovery.

“There’s a degree of safety with travel that we have to preserve. We’re still co-existing with the pandemic but that doesn’t mean that we haven’t been gradually lifting restrictions,” Maroto argued.

The minister spoke of allowing unvaccinated non-EU holidaymakers in soon as being another way of boosting the country’s recovering tourism industry, adding that her ministry was putting the finishing touches to the legislation, which will be approved in the coming days. 

A number of EU/Schengen countries have already lifted all their Covid-19 travel restrictions, including Greece and Austria most recently, as well as Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Poland, Romania, Slovenia, Sweden and Switzerland.

Other countries such as France and Italy, Spain’s competitors in the tourism stakes, have also already allowed unvaccinated third-country tourists in with proof of a negative Covid-19 test for more than a month now.

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