holiday blues | 

Covid threat rises in many popular European holiday hotspots favoured by Irish tourists

Destinations such as Spain, Portugal, Greece and France are all struggling against the virus again

HSE chief clinical officer Colm Henry. Photo: Colin Keegan

Eilish O'

Irish holidaymakers heading to popular summer hotspots overseas are facing a storm of rising Covid-19 infections and potential travel chaos.

Spain, Portugal, Greece, Italy and France are in the grip of the highly infectious BA.5 and BA.4 Covid-19 variants.

Cases in Spain have risen by 60pc in a month and, although Portugal was the first European country to be hit by the surge and is now over the worst, its recent seven-day incidence was still high at 1,150 per 100,000 population.

Meanwhile, France has suffered an 80pc spike in infections in a fortnight.

Yesterday in England it was reported that Covid-19 rose by 20pc in a week, with one in 25 people thought to have the disease at the end of June. One in 17 have been infected in Scotland.

It comes against ongoing reports of cancelled flights and long airport queues in Europe due to the spread of Covid-19 among staff, as well as labour shortages and more threatened transport industrial action.

Infectious disease consultant Jack Lambert, said he was seeing people who had travelled abroad – to weddings in countries such as Spain – catching the virus and finding out they were positive when they came home.

“They have been to indoor gatherings and have not worn a mask,” he said.

It was leading to the staff absences and the chance of long-Covid for some of those infected, he added.

Prof Lambert was at a medical think-in in Long Island in the US recently and said he saw very few people wearing masks at Dublin Airport or on the plane, but he continues to wear one.

Professor Anthony Staines, of Dublin City University, said he was glad to see face masks were still mandatory on public transport in Crete, where he was recently on holiday.

“The strains circulating are highly infectious,” he said.

Asked whether people should assess a pub or club before frequenting them, he said there needed to be regulation around ventilation in hospitality venues here and abroad due to the risk of Covid-19.

He also pointed to the Glastonbury festival, which led to many cases of Covid-19, and said people attending similar gatherings over the summer needed to be mindful of risk, particularly in indoor areas around the event.

There is concern in this country at the low uptake of a second Covid-19 booster vaccine among the immunocompromised and the over-65s, a number of whom are heading abroad to popular holiday ­destinations.

Corfu and the Canary islands are among popular summer-break haunts with the Irish. These destinations have not escaped the spread of the new variants.

HSE chief clinical officer Colm Henry said the booster take-up was still at around half, but he warned: “We know the vaccines wane, particularly in those groups for whom this additional booster is recommended – older people and those with underlying health conditions.”

The travel rebound in Europe combined with the more transmissible form of Covid-19 is also continuing to impact on airlines.

British Airways has cut around 10,300 short-haul flights from its schedule between August and October.

Some Aer Lingus customers who booked flights in late July are being contacted by email and given a new flight departure time, which may affect connecting flights.

It follows weeks of misery as passengers suffered cancelled flights and lost luggage at Dublin Airport.

The end of the use of the EU Covid cert and testing as a condition of entry to countries in Europe means it is increasingly up to the individual to decide if they travel, particularly if they have possible symptoms of Covid-19.

Industrial unrest is adding to the unwelcome summer mix and follows strikes by Ryanair cabin crew earlier this month in parts of Europe. There is planned action by Easyjet flight attendants in Spain over pay and conditions later this month, which could affect some tourists from Ireland.

A number of countries still have face-mask mandates for public transport, including Portugal and Greece.

It comes as Ireland continues to battle the Covid-19 wave at home as many opt for staycations or no holiday.

There were 905 patients with Covid-19 in hospital here yesterday morning, an increase of one from the previous day. Of these, 35 are in intensive care, which is a rise of one.

The seven-day positivity rate among those having PCR tests is 38.1pc, which is relatively stable.

The wave is having an impact on hospitals. University Hospital Galway has said it is under “sustained pressure” as a result of a significant increase in Covid-19 cases, as well as a high number of patients presenting at the emergency department.

Elective procedures have been postponed due to a lack of bed capacity, but the hospital said day-case procedures and outpatient clinics are proceeding as normal.

It said 51 patients were being treated for Covid, with three in intensive care.

It has had outbreaks in four wards and the virus has led to staff absences.

The pressures are exacerbated by the rise in patients attending its emergency department, which increased to 200 on Thursday. Existing staff are being asked to work extra hours.

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