“The health situation in the European Union is very serious” and requires “extreme vigilance”, declared on Thursday evening (21) the President of the European Commission (EU executive), Ursula von der Leyen. Due to the threat of new, more contagious variants, the bloc has created a new security classification, the “dark red zone,” to indicate places where there is a high circulation of viruses with the most dangerous mutations.
In the UK, for example, where one of these variants was detected at the end of last year, it has already become widespread and has been identified as one of the causes of a persistent increase in infections.
The bloc’s internal and external borders will remain open, but non-essential travel will be strongly discouraged. Passengers from countries outside the European Union or the Schengen zone will need to take tests to prove they are not infected before boarding, and travelers from dark red zones will need to undergo testing and quarantine .
The Commission President, however, said that the EU was still not prepared to follow the new variants: only 2 of the 27 members are able to sequence around 10% of positive tests, she said. On average, the block only sequences 1% of cases, which is insufficient to detect mutations. Von der Leyen said there will be investments to raise this average to at least 5%.
The measures were decided by videoconference of the European Council, which brings together the presidents or prime ministers of the 27 EU countries. Another topic discussed was vaccination, which suffered delays in several countries in the bloc. According to Council President Charles Michel, countries agreed that vaccination certificates should not, for the time being, be used to facilitate travel.
“It is important to note that people have been vaccinated, even for health purposes, but it is too early to use them to stimulate movement,” said von der Leyen.
The Netherlands announced that from this Saturday (23), they would ban flights from the United Kingdom, South Africa and South America and set up two mandatory tests: a PCR carried out 72 hours before departure and a fast type, in the arrival.
Pressure to adopt stricter containment measures is increasing in several European countries. In Germany, scientists have called on the government to adopt tighter lockdowns. According to one of the group’s executives, the director of the European Institute of Bioinformatics, Rolf Apweiler, the B117 variant (found in the UK) causes 6 to 8 times more infections per month than previous versions.
On Tuesday, Germany extended the isolation that would end on January 31, including the closure of schools, until February 14, including the closure of schools, and Bavaria made it compulsory to wear a surgical mask (with a higher protection factor ) inside shops or on public transport, a measure that must be followed by other German states.