EU leaders grappled Thursday with the threat of new coronavirus variants as wary countries pushed for a closure of Europe’s internal borders to stop the spread.
The chiefs will hold a summit – by videolink to protect themselves from infection – “to raise political awareness on the seriousness of the situation with the new variants,” an EU official said.
Virus mutations that emerged in Britain, South Africa and Brazil have alarmed EU authorities because of their increased infectivity, prompting bans or restrictions on travellers from those countries.
But calls are increasing to shut the intra-EU borders in a coordinated manner and not to repeat the experience in March when several member states panicked and closed off their national borders unilaterally, triggering travel chaos.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned Tuesday that while she hoped leaders would find alternative ways to stop the variants, she could not rule out border checks.
Belgium – wedged between Germany, France and the Netherlands – said it would plead for a “temporary” closure for the February holiday, when millions of Europeans usually head for the ski slopes.
For now, the variants remain a tiny proportion of overall cases in the EU, and health officials are in a race to execute vaccination jabs before the mutants dominate.
Mongolian PM resigns
Mongolia’s prime minister resigned Thursday following protests and public outrage over the treatment of a coronavirus patient and her newborn baby.
Anger mounted this week after TV footage showed a woman who appeared to have recently given birth being moved to an infectious disease center wearing only hospital pyjamas and plastic slippers, despite temperatures dipping to minus 25 degrees Celsius.
After protests outside government buildings on Wednesday, the Mongolian politician apologized on behalf of the government and said he would stand down immediately.
“Unfortunately, we made a mistake during relocating that mother,” admitted Prime Minister Khurelsukh Ukhnaa Thursday. “It was heartbreaking to see how she was treated. As a prime minister, I must take the responsibility.”
Markets bustling in Wuhan
Barriers still enclose Wuhan’s notorious seafood market – one of the few immediate reminders the city was once the epicentre of the coronavirus pandemic that has transformed the world.
Otherwise, the new normal in the central Chinese city of 11 million is much like the old reality; cars buzz down highways, sidewalks bustle with shoppers, and public transport and parks are busy.
On Saturday, the city where COVID-19 was first detected in late 2019 marks one year since it was locked down to crush the outbreak.
The city has bounced back and is eager to move on from being known as ground zero of the deadly virus.
No official commemorations of Wuhan’s first lockdown are planned.