Countries across southern Europe are rushing to reimpose Covid restrictions amid concern at rapidly rising cases of the delta variant.
Although deaths and hospitalisations remain low across Europe, a new wave of infections is unnerving governments and creating rifts across the continent.
Countries that were among the first to reopen, such as Spain, Portugal, Greece and Cyprus are among those now tightening restrictions.
France this week warned its citizens against holidaying in Spain and Portugal, while Germany added Cyprus to its list of high incidence destinations, meaning travellers who do not have both jabs will have to self-isolate on return.
Across Europe, the main fear is that there will be a new wave like Britain’s — despite the fact the UK has largely escaped serious cases thanks to its vaccine roll out.
On Saturday, Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission president, said the European Union had hit its target of delivering enough coronavirus vaccine to cover 70 per cent of the adult population.
But with the delta variant now accounting for over 40 per cent of cases in France, over 70 per cent in Portugal, and over 30 per cent in Spain, there is no room for complacency, Ms von der Leyen said, urging EU countries to increase vaccinations.
"Covid-19 is not yet defeated. But we are prepared to continue supplying vaccines – also against new variants," she said.
Biweekly confirmed Covid-19 cases per million people
In Spain, one of the first countries in Europe to open to tourists, the 14-day incidence has soared to 215 cases per 100,000 people.
With an economy heavily dependent on tourism, Spain is struggling to strike a balance between welcoming tourists and preventing transmission.
Catalonia has responded by ordering nightclubs to close again, just weeks after they were allowed to reopen, and other regions are calling for a return to night-time curfews.
In Greece, only seated customers are allowed in bars
Credit: COSTAS BALTAS/REUTERS
Germany has declared the whole of Spain a Covid risk zone, while the French foreign minister warned against French citizens travelling to Spain or Portugal, prompting a rebuke from Madrid.
In Portugal, where the 14-day incidence is over 240, people hoping to check into a hotel or eat in a restaurant now have to present proof of vaccination or a negative test.
Night-time curfews have been reimposed in many municipalities, including in the tourist hotspot of the Algarve, where police say they are struggling to keep young people off the streets.
In Cyprus, which leads Europe for Covid cases with a 14-day incidence of 493, people must show proof of vaccination or a negative test to go to the cinema or the theatre.
Venues which opt to serve only the fully vaccinated or those who show proof of recovery from an infection can admit larger numbers.
Greece, another of the first countries to reopen, reports a lower 14-day incidence at 71, but restrictions are being reimposed on restaurants, bars and nightclubs, with seated customers only permitted from this week, presenting a challenge for businesses relying on a high volume of customers.
Even in France, where the 14-day incidence is currently 42, the government warned this week that a fourth wave caused by the delta variant could jeopardise the summer.
“The English example shows that another wave is possible from the end of July,” said Olivier Véran, the French health minister.
“This variant is dangerous and quick and wherever it is present, it can ruin the summer,” said Gabriel Attal, a French government spokesman.
Infections in Paris have almost doubled in a week.
On Friday night, Malta took the drastic step of closing its borders to people who have not been fully vaccinated, following a spike in cases. It is the first country in Europe to introduce this measure, despite being reliant on tourism.
Only those in possession of a British or European vaccination certificate will be allowed in from July 14.
Malta has been hailed as a European success story for its vaccination campaign, with 79 percent of the adult population currently fully vaccinated.
In Spain, the Pamplona bull run has been cancelled for the second year running
Credit: ANDER GILLENEA/AFP
Having reported no new cases and having just 28 active cases on June 27, the Mediterranean island nation on Friday reported 96 new virus infections, and a total active case number of 252.
Across the continent, authorities say they are now in a race to vaccinate enough of their populations to avoid a new wave of deaths or hospitalisations.
Almost all serious cases have been in those who are not yet fully vaccinated. In Spain, the 14-day incidence among people in their twenties is a striking 814.
“The segment of the population which has not been able to get vaccinated is where the virus is spreading, that’s to say, among younger people,” Pedro Sanchez, the Spanish prime minister said this week.
Greece has experienced a similar pattern. “The average age has fallen to 23: that’s a drop of 10 years in a span of just two weeks,” said Vana Papaevangelou, a health adviser to the Greek government.
Given the generally low rate of serious cases among younger age groups, that means the infection figures may not be as alarming as they sound.
But European governments are speeding up their vaccine roll-outs in a bid to outpace the delta variant.
In Spain, 44 per cent are fully vaccinated so far, but Mr Sanchez pledged to increase that to 70 per cent by the end of the summer.
Several European countries are experiencing falling numbers turning up for their jabs. The most vulnerable are now vaccinated, and there is more reluctance to take the jab among the young as people begin to believe the worst of the pandemic has passed.
In Cyprus, the government has resorted to incentives including offering all workers a day off for each jab, and serving soldiers five days of leave.
Greece and France have both announced they will make the jab compulsory for certain key sectors, such as healthcare workers and nursing home staff.
“We are not speaking about a mandatory vaccination for all the people in France. We are just speaking about a mandatory vaccination for people working in healthcare and which are in contact with the most fragile people in France,” Bruno Le Maire, France’s finance minister, said.