What to do when every arrival poses a risk?

Concerns about the spread of mutated virus variants from the UK and South Africa are facing policy-makers with challenging decisions. The EU wants to avoid general border closures like those imposed during the first wave of the pandemic, but many countries are now introducing stringent border controls, flight bans and new quarantine rules at their own initiative. Commentators examine the options.

Open/close all quotes
Frankfurter Rundschau (DE) /

Any delay helps

The Frankfurter Rundschau believes that restrictions on travel make sense:

“The lockdown is beginning to show results - less clear and much later than hoped. That makes it all the more important to protect our hard-earned initial success. Not that restrictions could stop the coronavirus mutations. But precisely because they're spreading so rapidly, any delay helps. So it's good news that the aviation industry has openly admitted that travel is currently only possible to a very limited extent. And helpful that it is thinking about what should come after the lockdown; modified testing strategies instead of quarantines could indeed become a viable option. Unwarranted impatience is only apparent when people demand that it all be over by Easter.”

The Guardian (GB) /

Half-hearted quarantine won't bring results

This week the UK introduced mandatory hotel quarantine for arrivals from 30 countries. The Guardian says this is still not enough:

“Either a quarantine is comprehensive and effective, or it will fail. A differential approach based on country of origin is undermined by the difficulty of accurately ascertaining where arrivals have come from. Global travellers may move across many countries during their journey and use various means of transport. ... Determining who will be subject to self-isolation and who will be subject to mandatory quarantine will probably be a valueless task.”

The Irish Times (IE) /

Australia as a model

The Irish Times also calls for a robust quarantine system for travelers, citing Australia as a good example:

“The country is an ideal model for the Irish government to develop a common and adaptable system with Britain and Northern Ireland. ... The Australian model has nothing to do with luck, but with the analysis of data and a strong public health system. This is perhaps the biggest challenge the Irish government faces in building a functioning quarantine system, as the Irish healthcare system and its staff have been underfunded for years. ... But if the healthcare system isn't included here, serious mistakes will affect the whole country.”

The Daily Telegraph (GB) /

A price worth paying now

Tougher travel restrictions should certainly be considered, particularly in view of the South African strain of the virus, says The Daily Telegraph:

“What if this is the next pandemic? What if Britain succumbs to a new strain because we didn't close the borders in time, and ends up back at square one? ...It's striking how much the debate has shifted inside Government. One of the reasons for rejecting the Australian approach last time around was that Britain is a globally connected country - at the centre of the world, not parked at its antipodean extremities. That the hit we'd take from border closures - economically and reputationally - would be devastating. Now, it's a price worth paying. And lesson to be learned. And, perhaps, a game that everyone will soon be playing.”

Le Figaro (FR) /

Macron's dogmatic delay

After a long delay, France has also introduced Covid-related restrictions on entering the country. The resistance in Paris was political tokenism and wishful thinking, Le Figaro sneers:

“As a dogged defender of freedom of movement, Macron did not want to embarrass himself, shift position and admit that Marine Le Pen was right, thus exposing himself to criticism from the left. In our country, dogmatism takes precedence over pragmatism, symbols over necessity. On Thursday evening, the dam finally broke. The French exception is no longer popular. ... Macron's wish for EU-wide implementation made him change his tune. So now he is actually offering protection instead of just waving the totem about as he has been doing since the beginning of the crisis.”

taz, die tageszeitung (DE) /

Better to control than close

Particularly when it comes to travel, European controls to reduce the spread of the virus are patchy at best, die taz comments:

“The coronavirus shows that the power of democratic states is limited. ... We live with our neighbours, we are closely intertwined with them economically. Putting up new walls would be deeply damaging to the European trading zone and lead to more unemployment. ... The attempts to establish border controls must therefore remain halfhearted. And that leads to unequal treatment. But it is better than not even trying. The state has to continue to rely primarily on the intelligence and understanding of the people - even if some of them are not so understanding.”