Europe reopens, Beijing outbreak revives need for vigilance
Berlin – European countries reopened their borders Monday after a three-month coronavirus shutdown, although international visitors are still being kept away and there was uncertainty over whether many Europeans will quickly embrace travel outside their home countries.
The virus is still far from being wiped out, and the need for constant vigilance came into sharp focus again as China, where COVID-19 first emerged last year, rushed to contain an outbreak in the capital of Beijing.
Germany and France dropped border checks nearly two weeks after Italy opened its frontiers. Greece welcomed visitors Monday with passengers on flights from other European countries not having to undergo compulsory coronavirus tests.
The European Union’s 27 nations and a number of other European states aren’t expected to start reopening to visitors from outside the continent until at least the beginning of July and possibly later.
Spain put its tourism industry to the test on Monday by allowing thousands of Germans to fly to its Balearic Islands without a 14-day quarantine. Officials said the pilot program will help authorities gauge what’s needed to guard against possible virus flare-ups.
Martin Hofman was delighted to board a flight from Dusseldorf to the island of Mallorca because he said his vacation couldn’t be postponed.
“To stay in Germany was not an option for us,” Hofman said. “We are totally happy that we can get out.”
In Beijing, where an outbreak was traced to a wholesale market that supplies much of the city’s meat and vegetables, people lined up at hospitals and other facilities as authorities rushed to administer thousands of tests. Authorities confirmed 79 cases over four days in what looks to be the largest outbreak since China largely stopped its spread at home more than two months ago.
Tests were being administered to workers at the Xinfadi market, anyone who had visited it in the past two weeks, or anyone who had come in contact with either group. The market is Beijing’s largest wholesale food market, prompting inspections of fresh meat and seafood in the city and elsewhere in China.
Authorities also locked down the neighborhood around a second market, where three cases have been confirmed. In all, 90,000 people are affected in the two neighborhoods in the city of 20 million.
China, where the pandemic began in December, had relaxed most of its anti-virus controls after the ruling Communist Party declared victory over the disease in March. The development refocused attention on the need to deal with fresh outbreaks that could appear anytime in unexpected places.
“We must continue to take decisive measures to defend against outside cases and internal resurgences, and mobilize all units to take responsibility,” said Xu Hejian, the director of the Beijing government information office.
Beijing suspended Monday’s planned restart of some primary schools and reversed the relaxation of some social isolation measures.
Inspectors found 40 samples of the virus in the closed market, including on a chopping board for imported salmon. That prompted some supermarket chains to take salmon off their shelves over the weekend, and inspect markets, stores and restaurants.
Beijing health officials said gene sequencing showed the virus strain causing the new outbreak was related to that in Europe, although it wasn’t clear if it was being spread by the movement of people or transportation of food.
Experts were doubtful the virus was being spread through salmon or other food products.
Ian MacKay, who studies viruses at the University of Queensland in Australia, said there was no evidence to suggest a link between outbreaks and food.
“For my money, it is more likely to be a person who came into the area with lots of people and the virus has spread, as the virus does,” he said.
Japanese health ministry officials said they were closely watching the Chinese investigation, as budget sushi restaurants in Japan rely heavily on imported seafood, especially from China. They added, though, that they have not seen scientific evidence suggesting the virus could be transmitted through food.
South Korea is also among those countries seeking to prevent a resurgence of the outbreak, reporting 37 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday. Authorities said 25 of the cases came from the Seoul area, where health authorities are scrambling to trace infections linked to entertainment and leisure activities, church gatherings, warehouse workers and door-to-door salespeople.
Other countries are still battling major outbreaks.
Even as Russian President Vladimir Putin said his country was emerging from the health crisis, authorities there reported the number of cases has increased by 8,246 in the last 24 hours to total 537,210. Russia, which has recorded over 7,000 deaths from the virus, is behind only the United States and Brazil in the number of infections.
In Turkey, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca warned that the country is “moving away from the target” after as the daily number of new infections rose above 1,500 within a 24-hour span following the relaxation of restrictions.
India’s home minister offered 500 train carriages Monday for use as makeshift hospital wards as New Delhi struggles to contain a spike in cases. The Health Ministry reported a jump of more than 11,000 new infections nationwide for a third straight day.
In the United States, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo decried “rampant” violations of virus restrictions and threatened to reinstate business closings in areas where local governments failed to enforce the rules. He singled out Manhattan and Long Island’s tony Hamptons as problem areas.
“We are not kidding around with this,” Cuomo said Sunday. “You’re talking about jeopardizing people’s lives.”
Associated Press journalists around the world contributed.