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Europeans face travel woes as Covid reaches Olympic Village

PARIS: Europeans faced last-minute travel frustration on Saturday as the UK and France overhauled Covid-19 border restrictions to combat surging infections that threaten plans to get life back to normal.
The challenge of charting a return to pre-pandemic lifestyles was highlighted by the first case of Covid-19 at the Tokyo Olympics Games Village, less than a week before the event is due to begin.
The organizers have described the Games as the “most restrictive sports event… in the entire world”, but many are concerned about the health risks involved in hosting thousands of athletes and officials.
Britain is also facing a backlash over its decision to exempt France from its new looser entry policies — vaccinated returning UK residents will still have to quarantine for 10 days, unlike in other “amber” countries.
“I’m a doctor so I understand the health issues very well, but this doesn’t make any sense,” said Maud Lemoine, a doctor based in London who is visiting France.
And France had an up-welling of anger to deal with after the government announced that unvaccinated visitors from Britain and several other European countries must show a negative Covid test taken within the 24 hours of departure rather than 48 or 72 hours, as was the case previously.
The interior ministry said almost 114,000 demonstrators gathered across France on Saturday to protest against the government’s handling of the pandemic and continued restrictions on everyday life.
“It’s not that we think the Earth is flat, but we don’t know the long-term effects of these vaccines cobbled together in a hurry,” care assistant Rita, 39, said at a march in the city of Montpelier.
Elsewhere in Europe, Greek officials imposed curfews on the party island of Mykonos and Spanish authorities did likewise in Barcelona and other cities in the northeastern Catalonia region.
– EU jabs overtake US –
European governments are facing an uphill battle, with the EU’s disease prevention agency warning that infections could rise fivefold across the bloc by August 1.
But the continent also had something to celebrate, with the proportion of people vaccinated topping the US figure for the first time.
Around 55.5 percent have now had a first dose following a sluggish start, compared with 55.4 across the Atlantic.
EU Commissioner Thierry Breton said the achievement validated the EU’s strategy of “remaining open and exporting half of our production to 100+ countries”, vaunting the bloc’s “solidarity” compared with other vaccine makers.
Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said his country had reached the “milestone” of 50 million doses and promised that half of the population would be fully vaccinated by next week.
And in Britain, where most of the adult population has now had two jabs, the government is preparing to ease most restrictions on its citizens.
Quarantine for vaccinated Britons returning from “amber” list countries is due to end on Monday but at the last minute the government decided to retain the status quo for France because of the “persistent presence” of the Beta variant, first identified in South Africa.
While the rule applies only to England for now, the devolved governments in Scotland and Wales indicated they were likely to follow suit.
The new looser regime in England, with requirements to wear masks among the rules to be dropped, comes as the UK recorded more than 50,000 cases in a day on Friday and the government said that rate could double in the coming weeks.
However, officials said the high vaccination rate should prevent a spike in deaths and serious illness.

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M M Alam

M. M. Alam is a Pakistan-based working journalist since 1981. Karachi University faculty gold medalist Alam began his career four decades ago by writing for Dawn, Pakistan’s highest circulating English daily. He has worked for region’s leading publications, global aviation periodicals including Rotors (of USA) and vetted New York Times as permanent employee of daily Express Tribune. Alam regularly covers international aviation and defense-related events including Salon Du Bourget (France), Farnborough (United Kingdom), Dubai (UAE). Alam has reported thousands of events and interviewed hundreds of people in Pakistan, UAE, EU, UK and USA. Being Francophone Alam also coordinates with a number of French publications.