From Canada to Morocco, from Ireland to France, travel restrictions are increasing to contain the alarming spread of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus, which European leaders are trying to coordinate with on Thursday.
France announced Thursday to re-establish from Saturday the obligation to justify “compelling reasons” for travelers from and to the United Kingdom, with the approach of the end of the year holidays.
Faced with an outbreak of contamination linked to the Omicron variant, the United Kingdom recorded 78,610 new positive cases in 24 hours on Wednesday, unheard of since the start of the pandemic in 2020, according to official figures.
The validity of tests on departure from the UK is reduced from 48 to 24 hours and an isolation system on arrival in France is also in place, the French government said, while calling on all travelers to “postpone their trip ” UK.
“According to the British government’s own words, the United Kingdom will face a“ tidal wave ”linked to the Omicron variant in the coming days”, explained Paris.
The objective of these restrictions is “to slow down as much as possible the arrival of cases of the Omicron variant on our soil, the time that we vaccinate with booster doses”, explained the government spokesman Gabriel Attal on BFMTV and RMC.
Mr Attal said 240 cases of the Omicron variant have been detected, but estimated that “there are probably more” in France. Nearly 3,000 patients are currently in intensive care in the country and the figure should reach 4,000 by the time of the end of the year holidays, according to him.
A health defense council is due to be held on Friday afternoon, at a time when new measures to combat the spread of COVID-19 are on the table.
” Race against time “
In Brussels, the difficult coordination in the face of the progression of the new variant is at the heart of the summit of the leaders of the Twenty-Seven on Thursday, while Omicron could become dominant in Europe by mid-January, according to the European Commission.
Some countries such as Ireland, Portugal, Italy and Greece already require European travelers, even vaccinated, to present a negative test to be able to enter their territory.
Leaders should stress the importance of further expanding immunization, including the administration of booster doses.
“It’s a race against time,” commented Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis. Some 67% of the European population is fully vaccinated but this rate is below 50% in three countries (Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia).
Denmark, for its part, became the first EU country on Thursday to authorize the anti-COVID molnupiravir treatment from the American laboratory Merck, for patients at risk with symptoms.
The issue of compulsory vaccination, which Austria and Germany are preparing to impose, should be addressed even if the subject is the choice of each Member State.
If vaccination remains the “key”, it “will not be enough” by itself to prevent transmissions, however warned Wednesday the European agency in charge of epidemics, advocating the rapid reintroduction of measures such as teleworking, the wearing of masks. , limiting crowds in transport and public spaces, etc.
Canada advises against travel
Across the Atlantic, the Canadian government announced Wednesday to advise against non-essential travel abroad, saying it fears the “worst” because of the Omicron threat, and will strengthen border controls.
Morocco will also soon close its borders, partially reopened, in the face of the “lightning” spread of the new variant and the appearance of a first case of Omicron in the country.
The authorities have decided to put an end from December 23 to the system put in place to allow Moroccans stranded abroad to return to their country.
South Africa for its part on Wednesday recorded a record 26,976 COVID-19 infections in 24 hours, a few weeks after announcing the discovery of the Omicron variant, which caused panic across the world.
This return of the pandemic is also worrying in Asia: South Korea announced on Thursday the reinstatement of compulsory closing hours for cafes, restaurants, cinemas and other public places, and the limitation of gatherings to four people, in an attempt to ” stop a new outbreak of the pandemic.
Only China remains serene: it said Thursday it had reached a total of exactly 100,000 COVID-19 patients since the start of the pandemic, two years after its appearance in the center of the country.
Since then, the pandemic has killed at least 5,328,762 people worldwide and more than 271 million cases have been recorded, according to a report established by AFP from official sources.