Saturday, 16 October 2021

New travel curbs imposed as world tackles second COVID-19 wave

A passenger wearing a protective mask is pictured after arriving at Birmingham Airport in Britain. REUTERS/Phil Noble

LONDON/SYDNEY: Nations in Asia imposed new restrictions and an abrupt British quarantine on travellers from Spain threw Europe s vaunted summer reopening into disarray, as the world confronted the prospect of a second wave of COVID-19 infections.

In the United States, where infection rates have climbed since June, President Donald Trump s national security adviser Robert O Brien became the most senior official to test positive. The White House said Trump and Vice President Mike Pence were not at risk.

Surges were reported in a number of countries previously singled out as places where the virus was under control.

Australia recorded a record daily rise. Vietnam locked down the city of Danang, forcing tens of thousands of visitors to evacuate. Mainland China confirmed the most locally transmitted cases since early March. Papua New Guinea shut its borders.

Hong Kong banned gatherings of more than two people, closed down restaurant dining and introduced mandatory face masks in public places, including outdoors.

Just weeks after European countries trumpeted the reopening of tourism, a surge in infections in Spain prompted Britain to order all travellers from there to quarantine for two weeks, wrecking the travel plans of hundreds of thousands of people.

The World Health Organization said travel restrictions could not be the answer for the long term, and countries had to do more to halt the spread by adopting proven strategies such as social distancing and wearing masks.

“It is going to be almost impossible for individual countries to keep their borders shut for the foreseeable future. Economies have to open up, people have to work, trade has to resume,” WHO emergencies programme director Mike Ryan said.

“What is clear is pressure on the virus pushes the numbers down. Release that pressure and cases creep back up.”

Officials in some of the European and Asian countries where the virus is spreading again say new outbreaks will not be as bad as the original waves that hit earlier this year, and can be contained with local measures rather than nationwide shutdowns

Spanish officials were stunned by Britain s sudden quarantine. Britain accounts for more than 20% of foreign visitors to Spain, where tourism represents 12% of the economy and reopening the industry was a major step towards recovery.

“Not only is it unjust but it s also totally illogical and lacking in rigour,” Spain s main hotel association CEHAT said, as hotels offered to pay for coronavirus tests.

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