Associated press

ROME (AP) – When Italy won the Eurovision Song Contest with an exaggerated glam-rock performance, the victory signaled more than just a psychological boost for one of the countries hardest hit by COVID -19: Held before a live, indoor audience of 3,500 spectators, the annual kitsch festival confirmed that Europe was returning to a semblance of normalcy unthinkable just a few weeks ago.

Coronavirus infections, hospitalizations and deaths drop across the continent, after Europe topped the world in new cases last fall and winter in waves that claimed hundreds of thousands of lives, have forced more lockdowns and overwhelmed intensive care units.

Now vaccination rates are accelerating across Europe, and with them, the promise of summer vacations in Ibiza, Crete or Corsica. We hope for a rebirth of a tourism industry which, in Spain and Italy, alone accounts for 13% of gross domestic product but which has been wiped out by the pandemic.

“We are not talking about 2020. We are talking about today,” said Guglielmo Miani, president of the luxury shopping district of Montenapoleone in Milan, where European and American tourists have started to return, courted in part by dating. in person with the design teams. and free breakfasts in iconic cafes. The hope is that Asian tourists will follow next year.

Europe saw the biggest drop in new COVID-19 infections and deaths this week compared to any other region, while reporting that around 44% of adults had received at least one dose of the vaccine, according to the organization World Health Organization and the European Center for Disease Prevention. and control.

Europe’s seven-day moving average for new cases per 100,000 population was higher than in any other region from mid-October to early December, ceding the undesirable top spot to the Americas in the new year before to retrieve it from early February through April, according to an Associated Press analysis of data from Johns Hopkins University.

No European country is now among the top 10 new cases per 100,000 inhabitants. And only Georgia, Lithuania and Sweden are in the top 20.

But the virus is rampant in Southeast Asia and much of Latin America, hitting the Maldives and Seychelles particularly hard this week. Dr Michael Ryan, WHO’s chief of emergency, warned that with the global situation still “fragile and unstable”, Europe is by no means out of the woods.

“The premature easing of measures has contributed to the surge we have seen throughout 2020 and into the first quarter of 2021,” he warned. “We need to stay the course while striving to increase immunization coverage.”

The biggest concern for Europe is the highly contagious variant first detected in India, which has brought that country to its knees and found a growing foothold in Britain. The UK government warned on Thursday that the Indian variant accounted for 50% to 75% of all new infections and could delay plans to lift remaining social restrictions on June 21.

“If we’ve learned anything about this virus, it’s that once it starts to spread beyond a few cases, it becomes very difficult to contain,” said Lawrence Young, virologist at the University. from Warwick. “Only extremely strict local lockdowns shortly after a few cases are detected will prevent the virus from spreading.”

The rise in UK cases linked to the variant prompted Germany and France this week to demand quarantine of UK passengers.

The vaccines still appear to be very effective against the variant detected in India, but it is important that people receive both doses to ensure full immunity, said Ravindra Gupta, professor of clinical microbiology at the University of Cambridge.

“In populations where there is partial immunity, either from a previous infection or low levels of antibodies (all of a sudden), then the virus will have this nice sort of sweet spot of an advantage. ‘immune breakout plus greater transmission,’ he said.

But that hasn’t stopped countries from trying to entice tourists, even British ones.

At least 12,000 Britons started descending in Porto, Portugal on Friday for the Champions League final between Manchester City and Chelsea. Visitors must show a negative COVID-19 test to enter the stadium for Saturday’s game, but no quarantine is required at either end of the trip.

“Fortunately, I got two shots,” said Casper Glyn, a 51-year-old London lawyer who came to Porto to cheer on Chelsea with his two young sons. “They are young and healthy so I feel good.”

On Monday, Spain lifted entry requirements – including the need for a negative viral test – for visitors from 10 countries, including the UK. British travelers are in high demand at Spanish seaside resorts because they tend to spend the most.

Spain lifted the measures after its two-week contagion rate fell below 130 new infections per 100,000 population, from a record 900 at the end of January.

Fernando Simón, head of the center for the coordination of health emergencies in Spain, said he would prefer authorities “to cry out that Spain is open to tourism in 20 days, not now, when we still have to be careful”.

“I think we should tone down the euphoria a bit,” he said.

Greece has also been cautious even after recently allowing domestic travel and reopening most economic activities. About a third of the Greek population has received at least one dose of the vaccine, but new infections and deaths remain high.

“Yes, hospitalizations are going down, yes, deaths and intubations are going down, (but) there are still people entering the hospital who could have been vaccinated and were not,” said the Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, encouraging Greeks to get vaccinated.

“And some, unfortunately, lose their lives. It’s a tragedy,” he said.

But elsewhere, the euphoria is real. There is a palpable sense of relief and hope as summer approaches in Poland, where the number of new daily infections has dropped from more than 35,000 in late March and early April to lows of a few hundred. More than 19 million doses of vaccine have been administered in the country of 38 million.

This week, North Macedonia closed all but one COVID-19 treatment centers and field hospitals after a dramatic 90% drop in confirmed cases. Italy and Cyprus are to allow indoor dining restaurants to reopen on Tuesday with nightclubs – a big source of summer income for resorts in southern Europe – slated for soon after.

The party was already underway in the Dutch city of Rotterdam last weekend when Maneskin – an Italian rock band who started singing in Rome’s central shopping street – won the Eurovision Song Contest.

“The whole event was a relief,” singer Damiano David said. “This Eurovision means a lot, I think, for all of Europe. It will be a beacon.”


Jordans reported from Berlin and Barry from Milan. Associated Press reporters Aritz Parra in Madrid, Helena Alves in Porto, Portugal, Nicky Forster in New York and reporters across Europe contributed.


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