The newest variant of the Coronavirus is taking much of the world by surprise. From its initial appearance to where it originated, world health experts and national governments appear to have been blindsided. Now, nations are scrambling to reestablish travel restrictions and set other measures in place to prevent the omicron variant from arriving inside their borders. With omicron having first appeared in South Africa, several nations are banning or restricting travel to and from southern Africa. Israel is going a step farther and closing its border completely to foreigners. Despite the surge in precautions and restrictions, the omicron variant is already cropping up in Europe. Most experts seem to feel it will only be a matter of time before the new variant reaches other parts of the globe.
On Friday, financial markets finished the day in negative territory, largely in response to omicron. Whether or not the slide continues this week will depend on how effective the travel restrictions are, as well as the number of cases worldwide and over time, how well the current crop of vaccines handles the new variant. The impact that omicron has on supply chain issues and other international concerns will also play a part in how global economies respond to the new variant.
As a side note, I hope everyone had an enjoyable Thanksgiving holiday. We’re officially in the Holiday Season now and Christmas is less than a month away. Where does the time go? 😊
The European Union’s executive body is proposing additional travel restrictions to combat the spread of coronavirus mutations and variants, and to maintain the movement of goods and workers across EU borders. The EU’s 27 member-states have been urged specifically to increase testing and quarantine steps for travelers as concerns about production and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines have risen in recent days. The appearance of new variants that are more transmissible poses a risk to European hospitals, already struggling to contend with increasing numbers of new cases.
The new coronavirus variants have compelled many European nations to tighten their already extensive lockdown measures. France is considering the implementation of a third national lockdown if the 12-hour curfew now in place fails to stem the spread of new infections. Belgium has banned nonessential travel for its residents until March at the very least. Sweden has also barred travel from Norway in a move aimed at stopping the spread of new coronavirus variants.
Curtailing or banning nonessential travel is a difficult pill to swallow for the EU. It goes directly against the principle of free travel beyond national borders, a pillar of the Union. The virtues of free travel and unhindered movement have not stopped some national leaders on the continent from considering stricter measures. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said today that “no tourist travel should be taking place” as the German government weighed tougher measures.
Meanwhile, as travel restrictions are debated 400,000 EU citizens have already died from the virus since last February when COVID-19 made its first appearance in Europe.
The European Commission, executive branch of the European Union, is suggesting that EU member-states lift the travel bans many have recently put into effect against the United Kingdom. The EC recommendation is for member-states to allow people to travel to their country of residence providing they take a Covid-19 test or self-isolate. But it said non-essential travel should be discouraged. This development comes days after a new variant of the COVID-19 virus was discovered in the UK, which spurred a number of nations in Europe and around the world to impose travel bans on the UK. Now, with the Christmas season in full swing, and Brexit deal negotiations approaching the eleventh hour, the EC believes some EU members might’ve jumped the gun with their actions.
Despite the EC’s strong recommendation, it has little power to enforce or lighten border controls. EU member-states have the freedom to set their own rules on border controls and policies. Nearly every EU member is now banning travel to and from the UK. EU ambassadors are presently attempting to build an EU policy on travel links to and from Great Britain.
The EC is also recommending that transport personnel in Europe such as truck drivers should be exempt from travel restrictions. Commerce between the UK and the continent is also on hold for the moment as France and Britain try to reach a deal on reopening French ports to trade. Their present closure is creating a major backup of trucks loaded with goods at Dover, Calais and other ports on either side of the English Channel. The EC’s position is that cargo should be permitted to flow across borders uninterrupted. There are now over 3,000 trucks waiting on roadways in southeast England for a resolution.
The new variant of the COVID-19 virus remains largely a mystery. It is not believed to be deadlier than previous strains, however, virologists suspect it to be 70% more contagious. In any event, efforts to contain new variant cases to the UK could be in vain. As of this afternoon new variant cases have also cropped up in Denmark and also spread to Italy and the Netherlands as well.
Europe is facing a second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic as cases continue to surge in many nations across the continent. Outbreaks are being reported in France, the United Kingdom, Belgium, the Czech Republic, and areas of Spain and Italy among others. Governments have been deliberately selective with placing restrictions, and lockdowns on the general public, but the time may be nearing when more immoderate measures are put into play. Ireland is the only EU nation to reimpose a six-week long nationwide lockdown starting Thursday. Nonessential retail businesses will close, and residents are expected to stay within three miles of their homes, except for work and other essential activities. Police will set up road checkpoints to deter unnecessary travel.
On the continent, select regions in Spain and Italy are returning to lockdown conditions. A two week lockdown begins in the Spanish region of Navarre on Thursday. The measures being imposed on Navarre are more restrictive than those which have been placed on Madrid by Spain’s central government. In Italy, the southern region of Campania will be conducting an 11 PM- 5 AM curfew similar to one currently in place in the north. Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has said that this time around, unlike the March lockdown, he is giving towns and regions more freedom to decide what measures to put into place. In effect, Conte is giving towns and regions across Italy the ability to decide their own fate.
With a second wave of the pandemic now ramping up, travel restrictions which had been relaxed over the summer are starting to be reintroduced in some cases. Denmark has closed its borders again to a number of European nations that it considers to be high-risk. France is suggesting voluntary quarantines for people arriving from Britain and Spain. In the Netherlands and Belgium, the governments are trying to discourage non-essential travel across the shared border of the two nations.
All of these measures are relatively fair, and cannot be considered extreme. If case numbers do start to surge dramatically though, restrictions will become tighter and for the second time in a year the European Union could see its member-states closing its borders to essentially the rest of the continent.
Open internal border travel has been a foundation block of the European Union’s desire to create a European Superstate. The Schengen network was regarded as a crown jewel, heralding a new era of openness and unity at a dawn of what many hoped would be a ‘One Europe’ mindset. It braved a migrant crisis, as well as the wave of populist nationalism sweeping across the continent since 2016. However, Schengen may have met its match in the coronavirus pandemic. Europe’s freedom of movement is descending into chaos as a growing number of EU nation-states are opting to close their borders in order to stem the flow of the coronavirus. Many EU nation-states are imposing strict entry measures on their borders, or closing them entirely, defying warnings by Brussels to avoid blanket travel bans.
As the hours roll by, the situation at land borders across Europe continues to evolve. The continent has become new epicenter of the pandemic and this fact is driving the border closure actions in every case. Denmark, Poland, and the Czech Republic will close their respective borders almost entirely in the coming days. The most recent EU member to announce border restrictions is Germany. According to the German government, Germany’s borders with France, Austria, Denmark, Luxembourg, and Switzerland will be partially closed on Monday. Germany’s federal police chief Dieter Romann explained that his country will not be closing its borders, but controlling them. “We are not closing the borders, that is what they do in North Korea,” he told reporters. “We are controlling the border, that is something completely different.”
Romann’s comments came as the number of coronavirus cases in Germany rose by 1,000 from Saturday. There are now 4,838 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the Federal Republic and that number is most likely going to increased more in the coming days.