Europe may seem ready to move on from Covid after two years of being stuck in a loop of restrictions, but the World Health Organization (WHO) does not agree it is time to start treating the virus as a mild disease – just yet. Instead of supporting the reopening trend, the world’s top health officials are calling for measures to be tightened.
In recent weeks, a large number of European countries have decided to completely scrap their Covid rules, with the likes of Greece going as far as removing quarantine for infected tourists. Masks have also ceased being mandatory in multiple settings, as did the requirement to present a vaccination certificate for travelers arriving in Europe.
Even though the relaxation of measures has given the travel industry a much-needed boost, WHO thinks this was a mistake:
WHO Calls On Europe To Act Now Before It’s ‘Too Late’
Europe has been relatively free of Covid mandates since early 2022. With the exception of France, the Netherlands and Luxembourg, tourists have been able to country-hop across the continent freely. Whether it’s the Mediterranean Basin or Eastern Europe, namely the most restriction-free area in the world, all of the below apply:
- No vaccination for travel
- No pre-departure testing
- No post-arrival testing
- No mandatory quarantine for the unvaccinated
- No mandatory face masks in a majority of places
This means Americans and other non-EU travelers have been able to visit Europe at its freest, without being frowned upon if they choose not to get immunized or remove their masks. Now, the World Health Organization’s European office is concerned the lifting of restrictions might have happened way too soon – and too brutally at that.
WHO has warned Europe of a sharp rise in Covid cases set to take place in the fall and throughout winter, when respiratory diseases tend to spread more easily due to the colder temperatures and indoor gatherings. To put it simply, WHO’s European branch believes that the ‘reduced’ surveillance will make this a ‘challenging’ season.
As a result, the health body is urging European countries to ‘urgently address’ these gaps in pandemic monitoring, in order to minimize health risks among the general population, as well as avoiding ‘preventable deaths’ and ‘severe’ disruptions. WHO points out that Covid is still very much in circulation, and more virulent ‘sub-lineages’ are emerging.
Should Travelers Brace For A New Winter Of Travel Restrictions?
According to Hans Kluge, the Regional Director for WHO Europe, it is now ‘abundantly clear’ the continent is in a similar situation to 2021, when cases oscillated throughout the year amid new variants and vaccination efforts. Kluge believes a new wave is already here, and it is being propelled by variations of Omicron. Yes, Omicron is bound to make a comeback.
WHO’s latest data indicates that the number of infections in the European area has ‘trippled’ in the last six weeks, and close to 3,000 people are dying from Covid in the territory every week. Judging by the health organization’s reports, they will continue to rise higher unless action is taken. This could involve a new set of Covid restrictions.
The Regional Director states that ‘waiting for autumn’ to act will be ‘too late’, and has called on European countries to tighten rules and ‘prepare’ for new waves. Along with the statement, WHO also set out a strategy for pandemic management in the months to come, which includes reinforcing vaccination and the return of Covid mandates.
Some of the key points in WHO’s strategy for fall/winter 2022/23 are:
- Adding a second booster dose for immuno-compromised individuals
- Offering boosters to specific groups at risk of serious disease
- The use of face masks indoors, including public transportation
Kluge affirms that the above measures may even help reduced travel chaos, unarguably the greatest threat facing travelers at this point. Two thirds of European airports are dealing with severe delays and cancellations, caused by limited staff and sick leave absences. In fact, three of Europe’s busiest airports have now moved to cap daily flights in an attempt to ease the burden.
It remains to be seen how stricter rules will positively impact the travel industry.
Some European Nations Are Already Reinstating Curbs
WHO’s announcements are causing ripples across Europe: both Germany and Ireland are preparing to tighten measures once more and bring back masks this fall. Others like Cyprus responded to the warnings much more quickly, reinstating mandatory masks merely a month after the controversial requirement was lifted.
In the earlier days of Covid, Europe has followed WHO advice and acted on it almost immediately, enacting strict measures and adding requirements based on any available science coming from the health body. However, many countries in the region have grown more independent in their pandemic management, breaking ranks with WHO.
We do not know, at this point, whether Europe will be returning to its conservative era, though recent moves by Germany, Ireland and Cyprus indicate the influence of the World Health Organization has not entirely waned. For now, travelers are being encouraged to wear masks, even when they are not mandatory, practice social distancing and avoid crowds.
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This article originally appeared on TravelOffPath.com