Coronavirus: Europe reopens while Beijing rushes to control new outbreak

Europe and Beijing have increases in coronavirus cases

European countries have reopened their borders after a three-month coronavirus shutdown.

International visitors are still being kept away though and there is uncertainty over whether many Europeans will quickly embrace travel outside their home countries.

The virus is far from being wiped out, and the need for constant vigilance came into sharp focus again as China, where Covid-19 first emerged last year, rushed to contain an outbreak in the capital of Beijing.

Germany and France dropped border checks nearly two weeks after Italy opened its frontiers. Greece welcomed visitors with passengers on flights from other European countries not having to undergo compulsory coronavirus tests.

The European Union’s 27 nations and a number of other European states are not expected to start reopening to visitors from outside the continent until at least the beginning of July and possibly later.

Spain is putting its tourism industry to the test by allowing thousands of Germans to fly to its Balearic Islands without a 14-day quarantine. Officials said the pilot programme will help authorities gauge what is needed to guard against possible virus flare-ups.

A long line of cars formed at Bulgaria’s main border crossing with Greece after it reopened to visitors, with health officials conducting random tests on those entering, with roughly one person in every 15 checked.

Slovenia lifted travel restrictions with Italy, and the mayors of two towns on opposite sides of the border jointly removed a traffic sign that barred movement from one to the other. The towns of Nova Gorica in Slovenia and Gorizia in Italy are closely linked culturally and economically.

In Beijing, where an outbreak was traced to a market that supplies much of the city’s meat and vegetables, thousands lined up for tests at hospitals and other facilities.

Authorities confirmed 79 cases over four days in what looks to be the largest outbreak since China largely stopped its spread at home more than two months ago.

Tests were being administered to workers at the Xinfadi market, anyone who had visited it in the past two weeks, or anyone who had come in contact with either group. The market is Beijing’s largest wholesale food market, prompting inspections of fresh meat and seafood in the city and elsewhere in China.

Authorities also locked down the neighbourhood around a second market, where three cases were confirmed. In all, 90,000 people are affected in the two neighbourhoods in the city of 20 million.

China, where the pandemic began in December, had relaxed most of its controls after the ruling Communist Party declared victory over the virus in March. The development refocused attention on the need to deal with fresh outbreaks that could appear any time in unexpected places.

We must continue to take decisive measures to defend against outside cases and internal resurgences, and mobilise all units to take responsibility,” said Xu Hejian, the director of the Beijing government information office.

Beijing suspended its planned restart of some primary schools and reversed the relaxation of some social isolation measures.

Inspectors found 40 samples of the virus in the closed market, including on a chopping board for imported salmon. That prompted some supermarket chains to take salmon off their shelves over the weekend, and inspect markets, stores and restaurants.

Beijing health officials said gene sequencing showed the virus strain causing the new outbreak was related to that in Europe, although it was not clear if it was being spread by the movement of people or transportation of food.

Experts were doubtful the virus was being spread through salmon or other food products.