Britons rush home as second coronavirus wave threatens Europe

LONDON (AFP) – Thousands of British holidaymakers scrambled to get home to beat new restrictions on arrivals from European countries as a second wave of coronavirus infections threatened more disruption and economic chaos on the continent.

France and the Netherlands were removed from a list of quarantine-exempt countries on Friday (Aug 14), sparking a rush for plane, train and ferry tickets by Britons hoping to get home before 4am (0300 GMT) on Saturday, after which arrivals will have to self-isolate for 14 days.

France is facing a resurgent wave of the disease that was first detected in China late last year and has so far infected over 21 million people and killed more than 750,000 around the world.

The authorities in France have reported more than 2,500 new cases for the past three days – levels not seen since May.

One British couple said they had spent nearly £1,000 (S$1,794) to make it home via Eurostar from central France.

“I went to bed last night thinking it was all OK, woke up at 7am to find we had to get back here pretty sharpish,” Mr Stuart Buntine told the PA news agency.

Neighbouring Spain said it would close all nightclubs and ban smoking in the streets where people are unable to stay at a safe distance, after the country reported almost 3,000 cases in 24 hours on Thursday.

Germany added all of Spain except the Canary Islands to its list of regions where incoming travellers must show a negative test for Covid-19 or quarantine for 14 days.

Austria urged its citizens to return from popular Mediterranean destination Croatia before similar rules come into effect on Monday, while Serbia introduced mandatory testing for travellers from four neighbouring countries.

And thousands of Albanians queued in their cars at the Greek border, hoping to squeeze across and return to work before tougher entry requirements designed to brake mounting infections come into effect.

Some people had been waiting for three days in the 20km, 4,000-car jam, an Albanian police source said.

The US Department of Homeland Security also said it was extending a ban on non-essential travel through border crossings with Canada and Mexico throughout most of September “to slow the spread” of the disease.

CROSS-CHANNEL SCRAMBLE

French student Antoine, 23, had to rush back to Bristol, in south-western England where he is at university, cutting short his summer holidays.

“I’m a waiter in a small cafe near college, I can’t afford to spend 14 days in the house,” he said at London’s St Pancras railway station after getting off a Eurostar train.

French holidaymakers in Britain will be faced with tough choices of their own, as Paris swiftly announced a “reciprocal measure”, although it was unclear when that might be imposed.

The Netherlands said it would advise against all but essential travel to Britain, but would not impose a quarantine of its own for incoming travellers.

A slew of data on Friday revealed the scale of the economic impact of the virus and punishing lockdowns, with Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania, the Netherlands, Finland and Denmark all booking hefty hits to GDP in April-June.

Denmark and Hungary both reported their worst slumps since the early 1990s and Poland entered its first recession since the end of the communist era.

ALL EYES ON VACCINES

Hopes to break the cycle of outbreaks and lockdowns have turned to a vaccine, with Britain saying on Friday that it has secured access to another 90 million doses of two “promising” vaccines.

Vietnam meanwhile said it was looking to buy a bulk order of Russia’s “Sputnik” vaccine, although Western scientists have raised concerns about the speed of its development and suggested that researchers might be cutting corners.

And Washington said it would distribute any vaccine proven to be effective to all Americans for free.

Mexico said it and Argentina aim to have a vaccine available for Latin America – now the region with the worst virus toll and most cases – early next year under a production agreement with drug giant AstraZeneca.

New Zealand is battling its second outbreak of infections and extended a lockdown of its largest city Auckland by at least 12 days, giving health authorities more time to trace and contain a variant of the virus previously unseen in the country.

The Pacific island nation’s initial response to the pandemic was hailed a success, but a run of 102 days with no reported community transmission ended on Tuesday.

The country has now detected over 50 virus cases, and genomic tests indicated the latest infections were not the same strain of coronavirus recorded earlier this year.

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