EU to open borders to ‘safe’ countries as pandemic accelerates

BRUSSELS (AFP) – The European Union (EU) will reopen its borders to a select list of “safe countries” to be confirmed yesterday, as the World Health Organization (WHO) warned the pandemic is still accelerating with more than 500,000 deaths worldwide.

Europe’s piecemeal reopening comes as countries struggle to revive economic activity while battling new spikes of the virus, with hotspots still surging in Latin America and in the United States (US).

After days of negotiations, EU member are due to finalise the list of some 15 countries, including Australia, Canada, Thailand, Japan and others, whose citizens will be free to enter the bloc starting today.

The US, Russia and Brazil were among those expected not to make the selection, which will be updated every two weeks based on the safety situation in each state.

With some 10.3 million known infections worldwide, the pandemic is “not even close to being over”, the WHO has warned.

“Although many countries have made some progress, globally the pandemic is actually speeding up,” WHO Chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Monday.

In Europe, where infections have stabilised in many countries, the relaxation of lockdown measures is still touch-and-go as governments try to reboot economies facing historic recessions.

The United Kingdom (UK), home to Europe’s deadliest outbreak, has already seen its worst quarterly contraction in 40 years, shrinking 2.2 per cent from January-March.

The worst is yet to come, with economists predicting a double-digit slump in output during the second quarter, placing Britain in a technical recession.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson yesterday vowed to deliver a “infrastructure revolution” to help the country build its way out of the economic slump.

In the meantime, his government is employing a “whack-a-mole” strategy of targeted lockdowns to snuff out the virus.

While the government plans to reopen, restaurants and hairdressers across England on July 4, schools and non-essential shops in Leicester, central England, have been ordered to close after a localised outbreak.

Germany, which has been praised for its handling of the COVID-19 outbreak, also saw its North Rhine-Westphalia state extend a lockdown on a district hit hard by a slaughterhouse outbreak.

COVID-19 is still tearing across the US, particularly in southern and western states where leaders pushed for early reopenings.

The country leads the world with more than 126,000 recorded deaths and 2.5 million cases.

In Houston, Texans waited for hours in their cars to get tested in a state that has seen infection rates double since early June.