Covid mutation: tensions on both sides of the Channel

The new strain of Sars-CoV-2, which is reportedly up to 70 percent more contagious, has spread from the south of England to at least five other countries. More than 40 states have banned all traffic to and from the UK and supply chains have broken down. Europe's media debate what needs to be done at the political level, but also point to opportunities.

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Eesti Päevaleht (EE) /

This is how you gamble away trust

London has demonstrated spectacularly poor crisis management with its belated information on the mutation, Eesti Päevaleht concludes:

“Boris Johnson's 'Christmas present' caused additional congestion at the transport nodes and fueled conspiracy theories about coronavirus and Brexit. In a way, the EU's eagerness to stop transport ties with the UK seems like Brussels' revenge for Brexit. ... A good coronavirus policy encourages people to voluntarily comply with the government's requirements. A bad coronavirus policy encourages doubt and disobedience. The British government's sluggish action did just that. However, the effect could reach far beyond the UK.”

The Times (GB) /

Bring MPs back from their holidays!

In the current emergency politicians must put everything else on hold, The Times urges:

“There is little doubt what the government needs to do now. Its priority must be to accelerate the mass vaccination programme as rapidly as possible. ... Meanwhile it should hardly need saying that, as in any national emergency, parliament ought to be recalled. MPs should be given the chance to scrutinise the government's response to the crisis, including its vaccine plans. ... The recall of parliament would also give MPs the chance to question the government's approach to the Brexit negotiations and its failure as yet to secure a deal.”

Neue Zürcher Zeitung (CH) /

A second chance for the EU

The Neue Zürcher Zeitung also sees a positive side to events:

“The escalation of the crisis is also a second chance for the EU. After its abysmal crisis management in the spring, its rapid alert has worked this time. No sooner had the warning call from London been sounded than the German presidency called a crisis meeting in Brussels. The coming days and weeks will show what the agreements can achieve. But the goal is clear: the borders within the Schengen area are to remain open. ... Covid-19 won't be the last challenge that requires joint and rapid responses from the EU. ... It is certainly not too early to start thinking now about what a more responsive, more powerful bloc might look like.”

Iswestija (RU) /

Current strategy should be maintained

The British mutation is not as dangerous as the drastic measures now being taken make it seem, argues virologist Sergey Netesov in Izvestia:

“This strain does seem to be more easily transmissible than the previous one - it probably just multiplies faster. And it is not likely to alter the immunity of those vaccinated or those who have recovered from Covid because the mutation in amino acids is not in areas that are relevant for antigens, which means the vaccines will work. ... From a policy perspective, Johnson probably did everything right. Better to be overcautious now and withdraw unnecessary bans in a month's time than to allow people to relax before the holidays. Because then there would inevitably be a new wave of the disease.”

The Guardian (GB) /

Government reacted too late again

London is more to blame for the worsening situation than the new variant, The Guardian writes:

“The prime minister should have acted sooner. He may not have known exactly what was driving the growth in Covid cases but ministers have been aware for a week that something was going wrong. ... For the third time in a year, the government refused to face the facts and take the necessary action until much too late. Those delays have not only cost thousands of lives but have, cumulatively, shredded the trust in authority needed to boost compliance. This is all the more frustrating as the vaccine rollout offered new hope. ... A mutant virus cannot wholly explain why we are in this mess or distract from the other failures that have led us here.”

El Español (ES) /

Acid test in battle against the pandemic

El Español has a sensation of déjà vu:

“We don't want to indulge in alarmism, but the fear of a third deadly wave over Christmas is more than palpable, because the holidays create the conditions for a perfect storm. ... If the worst-case scenario becomes reality and the high incidence of the British virus leads the intensive care units to collapse once more, it would be proof that we have learned nothing. Therefore, we urgently need to analyse the mistakes that have been made since the start of the pandemic. It's the déjà vu of once again facing an unknown danger.”

De Tijd (BE) /

A foretaste of "splendid isolation"

The coronavirus is inadvertently showing the British that a hard Brexit will be no walk in the park, De Tijd points out:

“With the closure of Europe's borders the supply chain will face major hurdles. And with the approaching Brexit that chain is already under considerable pressure as it is. There's a general race to buy as many goods as possible, which is leading to endless traffic jams on both sides of the English Channel. ... The coronavirus is currently causing a more or less hard Brexit that wasn't even planned. The complete, temporary isolation of Britain is unintentionally giving the population a small taste of what a Brexit without a trade deal will look like. It is certainly not a 'splendid isolation'.”

taz, die tageszeitung (DE) /

Containment now more vital than Brexit deal

It would be nonsensical to try to solve the Brexit problems in the last minute, the daily taz warns:

“The current suspension of all travel between London and Brussels makes the in-depth negotiations that would be necessary to work out common ground and lines of compromise impossible. ... So a Brexit deal could become the first casualty of the new coronavirus restrictions. But a 'no deal' loses much of its horror if its worst consequences occur in the name of fighting the virus. Both sides have long had their no-deal emergency measures at the ready. Europe and the UK should put them into effect now and then focus their full attention on fighting the pandemic - together. Otherwise, there will soon be no economy left to save from trade restrictions.”