When Italy won the Eurovision Song Contest with an over-the-top glam-rock performance, the victory signaled more than only a psychological boost for one of the nations hardest hit by COVID-19: Held before a live, indoor audience of 3,500, the annual kitsch festival affirmed that Europe was coming into some semblance of normalcy that was unthinkable a few weeks ago.
Coronavirus infections, hospitalizations and deaths have been plummeting throughout the continent, following Europe led the world in fresh cases last fall and winter in waves which cost thousands and thousands of lives, forced more rolling lockdowns and overwhelmed intensive care units.
Currently, vaccination rates are accelerating across Europe, and with them, the promise of summer holidays on Ibiza, Crete or even Corsica.
“We do not speak of 2020. We talk of from now ahead,” said Guglielmo Miani, president of Milan’s Montenapoleone luxury shopping district, where American and European tourists have started trickling back, wooed in part by in-person meetups with design groups and absolutely free breakfasts at festivals that were iconic. The hope is that Asian tourists will follow next year.
Europe saw the largest decline in new COVID-19 infections and deaths this week in comparison with any other area, while also reporting roughly 44 percent of adults had obtained at least one dose of vaccine, according to the World Health Organization and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.
Europe’s seven-day rolling average to get new cases per 100,000 individuals were higher than any other region from mid-October during the start of December, ceding the unwanted top place into the Americas within the new year before reclaiming it in early February through April, according to an Associated Press analysis of information from Johns Hopkins University.
Now, no European country is one of the top 10 for new cases per 100,000 people. And just Georgia, Lithuania and Sweden are at the top 20.
But the virus has been spiking in Southeast Asia and much of Latin America and hitting on the Maldives and Seychelles particularly hard nowadays. Dr. Michael Ryan, WHO’s chief of emergencies, cautioned that using the global situation still”volatile and fragile,” Europe is by no means from the woods.
“Relaxing measures has contributed to this surge we’ve seen throughout 2020 and during the first quarter of 2021,” he warned. “We must stay the course whilst trying to improve vaccination coverage”
The largest concern for Europe is that the highly infectious variant first found in India, that has brought that nation to its knees and found that a growing foothold in Britain. The British authorities warned Thursday that the version from India accounts for 50% to 75% of all new infections and may delay its plans to raise residual social restrictions on June 21.
“If we’ve learned anything about this virus, it’s that after it starts to spread beyond a few scenarios, it gets rather difficult to include,” explained Lawrence Young, a virologist at the University of Warwick. “Only extremely stringent local lockdowns shortly after a couple of instances are detected will prevent the virus from spreading.”
Growing British cases linked to the variant prompted Germany and France this week to require U.K. passengers .
Vaccines appear still to be highly effective against the variant detected in India, but it is important for folks to get both doses to make sure full immunity, said Ravindra Gupta, professor of clinical microbiology at the University of Cambridge.
“In people where there is partial immunity, either in previous infection or low levels of antibody (from a single shot), then the virus may have that wonderful sort of sweet place of an benefit of immune evasion, and greater transmission,” he said.
But that has not stopped countries from attempting to woo back touristsfrom Britain.
At least 12,000 people from Britain began descending Friday on Porto, Portugal, for the Champions League final between Manchester City and Chelsea. Visitors need to show a negative COVID-19 test to get into the arena for Saturday’s game, but no quarantines are demanded on each end of the excursion.
“Fortunately I have had two germs,” said Casper Glyn, a 51-year-old attorney from London who came to Porto to cheer on Chelsea along with his two young sons. “They’re young and fit, so I feel great.”
On Monday, Spain lifted entry requirements — including the demand for a negative virus test — for visitors from 10 nations, such as the U.K. British travellers are highly sought after at Spanish beach resorts since they are inclined to spend the maximum.
Spain lifted the measures after its two-week contagion rate dropped under 130 new infections per 100,000 peopledown from a listing of 900 in the end of January.
Fernando Simón, head of Spain’s health crisis coordination center, said he would prefer police”shouted that Spain is available to tourism in 20 days, not today, when we need to be cautious.”
“I think we should lower the tone of euphoria a bit,” he explained.
Greece, also, was voicing caution even after it recently allowed domestic traveling and reopened most economical activity. About a third of the Greek population has received a minumum of one vaccine dose, however, new illnesses and deaths remain high.
“Yes, hospitalizations are falling, yes, deaths and intubations are down, (but) there are still individuals entering hospital who could have been vaccinated and weren’t,” Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis stated, encouraging Greeks to get their shots.
“And a few, unfortunately, are dropping their lives. It’s a tragedy,” he explained.
But elsewhere, the euphoria is real. There’s a definite sense of hope and relief as summer approaches in Poland, in which the range of new daily infections has dropped from over 35,000 in late March and early April to lows in the few hundreds. More than 19 million vaccine doses have been administered in the state of 38 million.
This week, North Macedonia closed all of its COVID-19 treatment centers and area hospitals after a remarkable 90% decline in verified cases. Italy and Cyprus are expected to allow restaurants reopen for indoor dining on Tuesday with discos — a large summertime moneymaker for southern European shore resorts — scheduled shortly thereafter.
The party was already underway from the Dutch city of Rotterdam last weekend after Maneskin — an Italian rock band that got its start singing Rome’s principal shopping street — won the Eurovision Song Contest.
“The whole event has been a relief,” lead singer Damiano David said. “This Eurovision means a good deal, I believe, to the whole of Europe. It is likely to be a lighthouse.”
Jordans reported from Berlin and Barry in Milan. Associated Press journalists Aritz Parra in Madrid, Helena Alves at Porto, Portugal, Nicky Forster in New York and colleagues across Europe contributed.