Econostrum | Economic News in the Mediterranean

The Mediterranean tries to counter the Omicron variant

Written by Gérard Tur on Tuesday, November 30th 2021 à 15:20 | Read 161 times

MEDITERRANEAN. While the fifth wave of the Covid-19 epidemic is raging, the detection of a new variant of the virus, called Omicron, in South Africa is provoking some drastic measures in the Mediterranean that are ruining the tourism boom.

Clément Beaune, French Secretary of State for European Affairs, indicated on Monday 29 November 2021 on France Inter that there would be no complete closure of borders within the European Union. This is in line with the recommendations of the World Health Organisation (WHO) calling for the maintenance of open borders and calling for "a scientific approach" based on "risk assessment". While the WHO describes Omicron as "worrying", it "advises against travel restrictions". Several Mediterranean countries do not seem ready to follow this advice.

On Sunday 28 November 2021, Rabat announced the suspension of all passenger flights to Morocco for a fortnight from Monday 29 November 2021 at 23:59. The Moroccan Interministerial Committee for the follow-up of the pandemic justifies this decision by its will "to preserve the achievements made by Morocco in the fight against the pandemic and to protect the health of its citizens". The local authorities had already, a few hours ago, suspended regular flights to and from France, as well as maritime links because of the resurgence of the epidemic. A country that sends more than 40% of the tourist flows to the Cherifian Kingdom.

Israel closes its doors to foreign tourists

Since the evening of Sunday 28 November 2021, foreigners have been unable to enter Israel (photo: F.Dubessy)
Since the evening of Sunday 28 November 2021, foreigners have been unable to enter Israel (photo: F.Dubessy)
On Sunday 28 November 2021, Israel decided to immediately close its borders to foreigners, "except for cases approved by a special committee", says the Prime Minister's office. The country had just reopened its borders on 1 November 2021 to vaccinated foreign tourists. A case of the Omicron variant has been confirmed in a person returning from Malawi and Israel intends to slow its spread by this measure.
Vaccinated Israeli citizens arriving in their country will have to present a PCR test and quarantine themselves for three days. This obligation is extended to seven days for non-vaccinated people. As the Jewish festival of Hanukkah (the eight-day "festival of lights") begins, the rules on gatherings are changing. A health pass will now be required for events involving more than 50 people, instead of the previous 100.

For the time being, Tunisia is content to modify the conditions of entry into its territory. From Wednesday 1 December 2021, a negative PCR test less than 48 hours old will be required on boarding instead of less than 72 hours old today. This provision is valid for all travellers from the age of two. Arrivals who have not been vaccinated or whose vaccination schedule has not been completed will have to confine themselves for ten days at their own expense in one of the confinement centres designated by the Tunisian authorities. Then perform a PCR test in the last 24 hours of this mandatory confinement.

These new border closures come at a time when the World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) has published, on Monday 29 November 2021, encouraging figures on tourism in the third quarter of 2021 in the world and particularly in the Mediterranean. The recovery was on the cards with an increase of 58% in international tourist arrivals between July and September (-20% from January to September) compared to the same period in 2020. Although these results were nevertheless still 64% down on the same period in 2019, the UNWTO spoke of "an upturn", while recognising that "the recovery remains fragile".

Croatia and Turkey lead global growth

In Southern Europe, arrivals have exceeded 2020 levels in the first nine months of 2021. Some smaller destinations in Southern Europe and the Mediterranean have even seen "the best performance in the third quarter of 2021 (...) with arrivals close to or even above pre-pandemic levels", notes the Madrid-based organisation. Major destinations such as Croatia (-19%) and Turkey (-35%) showed the best results in July-September 2021.

The report points out that "the increase in demand is attributable to increased traveller confidence, the rapid rise in vaccinations and the easing of entry restrictions in many destinations. In Europe, the EU's digital COVID certificate has helped to facilitate free movement within the European Union, unlocking a demand that had been severely pent-up after many months of travel restrictions.

UNWTO forecasts that "international tourist arrivals in 2021 are expected to remain 70-75% below 2019 levels, a similar decline to 2020. The tourism economy would therefore continue to be hit hard. Tourism's direct gross domestic product could lose another $2 trillion, as much as in 2020, while tourism-related exports are expected to remain at $700-800 million, far behind the $1.7 trillion recorded in 2019."

The arrival of the Omicron variant and the reactions of several Mediterranean countries have already rendered obsolete these UNWTO forecasts published only a few hours ago.

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