Xinhua Headlines: Europe faced with dilemma between reopening and COVID-19 resurgence

Source: Xinhua| 2020-07-04 17:39:33|Editor: huaxia

-- In the past three months, the COVID-19 pandemic has halted global economic growth and taken its toll on Europe, a most sought-after tourist destination and the powerhouse of manufacturing industries;

-- Repeated warning of a possible resurgence of COVID-19 in the European region has now become a reality, said Hans Kluge, regional director for Europe of the WHO;

-- Yet the WHO official saw a light of hope in the messages he received from health ministers in Europe that more and more people have become socially responsible and adhered to physical distancing and wearing facial masks.

ZAGREB, July 4 (Xinhua) -- It is still early to celebrate the waning of COVID-19 and restore the long-awaited normality to Europe, as recent statistics show that the pandemic is far from over on the continent.

However, failing economic conditions and collateral damage can be as deadly as the coronavirus. Returning to comprehensive lockdown measures is the last thing to do for many, even though the virus has made a comeback in some countries.

A green light is seen in front of the headquarters of the European Commission in Brussels, Belgium, June 30, 2020. (Xinhua/Zheng Huansong)


In the past three months, the COVID-19 pandemic has halted global economic growth and taken its toll on Europe, a most sought-after tourist destination and the powerhouse of manufacturing industries.

According to a report published Wednesday by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), the world's tourism sector could lose at least 1.2 trillion U.S. dollars, or 1.5 percent of the global gross domestic product (GDP), due to a standstill of nearly four months caused by COVID-19. Such European countries as Croatia, Greece, Ireland, and Spain are among the Top 15 most affected countries, whose GDP might suffer the most from tourism losses.

Coronavirus-related losses in tourism have a knock-on effect on other economic sectors that offer goods and services to holidaymakers, such as food, beverages and entertainment, the report warned.

Greece has managed to keep its infection and fatality rates relatively low since the outbreak. The country, highly reliant on tourism as the industry contributes about 20 percent of its GDP, is one of the first European Union (EU) countries that opened borders to foreigners.

A boy waves at a robot wearing a face mask and offering anti-COVID-19 information at Athens International Airport in Athens, Greece, June 26, 2020. (Xinhua/Marios Lolos)

In mid-June, Greece reopened its border and some of its airports to tourists. Travelers mainly from European countries are allowed to enter with samples or necessary testing upon arrival. As of Wednesday, Greece fully opens all its airports to flights from abroad.

Croatia first opened its borders to neighboring Slovenia as early as May, and later to around 10 more European countries with relatively good epidemiological situations. On Wednesday, a train with 550 tourists from the Czech Republic arrived in Croatia's coastal city Rijeka, the first of its kind since the COVID-19 outbreak. The train will run regularly during the peak of the tourist season of July and August. So far, 30,000 tickets have been sold.

Romania implemented the relaxation measures in stages starting from May 15. The southeastern European country has lifted border control measures against 22 European countries since June 15. At present, Romania's international highway and rail traffic have been fully opened, while the national airline Tarom continues to resume more routes.

The Belgian authorities have also authorized citizens of EU and Schengen area countries ("EU+"), as well as third-country nationals legally resident in the EU and their family members, to travel at their convenience in the "EU+."

Tourists take a sightseeing horsecart in Bruges, Belgium, July 1, 2020. (Xinhua/Zheng Huansong)


Repeated warning of a possible resurgence of COVID-19 in the European region has now become a reality, Hans Kluge, regional director for Europe of the World Health Organization (WHO), said on June 25.

Kluge noted that 30 countries in the region had seen increases in cumulative cases over the past two weeks, and in 11 of these countries, the accelerated transmission has led to "a very significant resurgence."

In Serbia, the number of newly confirmed cases per day has been gradually increasing since the state of emergency was lifted on May 6. On June 23, the crisis response team ordered mandatory use of facial masks in public transportation and recommended people to wear them also in indoor spaces.

However, a week after these measures, the number of newly confirmed cases in Serbia has more than doubled. A similar situation was also seen in neighboring Montenegro.

Aerial photo taken on May 30, 2020 shows the view of a Blue-flagged beach, south of Athens, Greece. (Photo by Lefteris Partsalis/Xinhua)

Although Montenegro declared "corona-free" on May 24 after recording zero active cases, new patients started appearing from June 15. The Montenegrin government claimed that the new cases had been imported from regional countries, namely Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH).

The number of newly confirmed cases in BiH on Thursday was 180, the highest since the outbreak in early March. In the first wave of the outbreak, the biggest daily increase was 104, while since the second outbreak on June 24, the daily count has been higher than the peak of the first round.

The epidemic has also rebounded in Romania since mid-June. According to the statistics, the average number of new cases per day from June 16 to June 30 was over 320, while the daily cases in the first half of June were 194. New cases skyrocketed to 460 and 411 on June 25 and 26 respectively.

What is noticeable is the increase in the number of young people infected. Some hospitals are beginning to experience bed shortage. Local health experts believe that people's relaxation of the epidemic prevention awareness, such as not wearing masks according to regulations or gathering in large numbers, are among the main reasons for the rebound of the outbreak.

Photo taken on June 24, 2020 shows the meat processing company Toennies in Guetersloh, Germany. (Photo by Ulrich Hufnagel/Xinhua)

Croatia has recorded a notable surge of COVID-19 infections since two weeks ago, after nearly a month with no or less than five daily new cases. On June 22, the final match of the Croatian leg of the humanitarian tennis tournament Adria Tour, which was initiated by World No. 1 player Novak Djokovic, was abruptly canceled after Bulgarian player Grigor Dimitrov announced he had tested positive for coronavirus.

The world's best tennis players, including Borna Coric, Goran Ivanisevic and Djokovic, as well as some coaches who participated in the tournament all tested positive in the following days.

On Friday, there were 96 newly confirmed cases in Croatia in 24 hours, the same number recorded on April 1, which makes the biggest daily rise in new cases since the start of the epidemic in late February.

Poland, Germany and Spain recently saw a resurgence of COVID-19 clusters at schools, coal mines, and food production facilities, according to Kluge. He warned that health systems are being brought to the brink once again in Europe.

Signs marking social distance are seen on the floor of an elevator at the Pompidou Center on its reopening day in Paris, France, July 1, 2020. (Xinhua/Gao Jing)


Yet the WHO official saw a light of hope in the messages he received from health ministers in Europe that more and more people have become socially responsible and adhered to physical distancing and wearing facial masks.

Two months after France's gradual exit from the COVID-19 lockdown, the circulation of the virus is now "under control" in the country despite the recent identification of more than 200 new infections, Health Minister Olivier Veran said Thursday.

He noted the French government is doing everything to avoid a resurgence of the epidemic" and has asked companies to provide stock of masks that can support ten weeks' use in face of a possible rebound.

Both Serbia and Montenegro have been handling a new peak of COVID-19 caseload with new measures including bans on gatherings and fines for people not wearing masks. Four Serbian cities and towns again declared emergency. Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic announced Thursday new measures for capital Belgrade, where more than 80 percent of new infections have been recorded recently.

Romania has to postpone further relaxation measures scheduled for Wednesday amid the recent rise of infections, Prime Minister Ludovic Orban said this week. "It has become clear that in many places the rules are not followed, and there is an increased risk of transmitting the virus due to non-compliance with the rules," he stressed.

People wearing face masks walk on the street after localized lockdown in Leicester, Britain, July 1, 2020. (Photo by Jon Super/Xinhua)

The British government on June 29 announced localized lockdown in Leicester following a spike in caseload, which pushed the seven-day infection rate in the city to 135 cases per 100,000 people.

In recent weeks, the mines and its surrounding area in the Moravian-Silesian Region of the Czech Republic have witnessed the largest outbreak in the country. As a result, the government, which had lifted most coronavirus-related restrictions in the country, made mask-wearing mandatory for indoor areas and public transport while banning public events of over 100 people in the region.

Noting the worsening situations among neighboring countries, the Austrian foreign ministry issued on Wednesday the highest warning against traveling to the Western Balkan countries, including Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, North Macedonia, and Serbia.

The level-6 travel warning means travelers from those countries have to undergo a 14-day self-quarantine or present a negative coronavirus test result, according to a tweet from the ministry.

There will be increasing controls over the borders, said Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg on Wednesday. "We were able to lift the travel restrictions for 32 European countries," but the freedom to travel is still "miles away," he said.

(Xinhua reporters Gao Lei in Zagreb, Shi Zhongyu in Belgrade, Chen Jin in Bucharest, Yu Shuaishuai in Athens, Zhang Xiuzhi in Sarajevo, Pan Geping and Wang Zichen in Brussels, Zhang Jiawei in London, Yang Xiaohong in Prague, Zhao Feifei in Vienna, Lin Jing in Copenhagen, Zhang Yirong in Berlin, Zhang Zhang in Warsaw, Guo Qun in Riga, Guo Mingfang in Vilnius, Yuan Liang in Budapest, and Fu Yiming in Stockholm contributed to the story.)

(Video reporters: Gao Lei, Relja Dusek, Tang Ji, Zhao Yuchao, Han Chong; Video editor: Zhang Yichi)