COVID-19: Returning Brits begin quarantine while Russia rolls out vaccine

LONDON: British travellers returning home from parts of Europe and beyond began having to quarantine on Saturday (Aug 15) under new restrictions, while Russia said it has produced the first batch of its controversial coronavirus vaccine.

The UK opted to remove France, the Netherlands, Malta and three other countries from its list of places exempt from self-isolation rules, as a second wave of virus infections threatens more disruption and economic chaos on the continent.

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The move announced late Thursday sparked a 36-hour scramble for plane, train and ferry tickets among some Britons desperate to get back before the 4 am (0300 GMT) change.

All arrivals from the blacklisted states after the deadline must quarantine for 14 days, with the measure already in place for people coming from several other countries including Spain and Belgium.

French student Antoine, 23, cut short his holiday to rush back to Bristol, in southwestern England, where he is at university.

"I'm a waiter in a small cafe near college, I can't afford to spend 14 days in the house," he said at London's St Pancras railway station after arriving on a Eurostar train.

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France is facing a resurgence of the disease that emerged in China late last year and has so far infected over 21 million people globally and killed more than 760,000.

French authorities have reported more than 2,500 new cases on each of the past three days — levels not seen since May when the country emerged from lockdown.

With cases still rising around the world, Moscow said the first consignments of its "Sputnik" vaccine had been produced, just four days after President Vladimir Putin announced Russia had won the global race to approve a vaccine.

It has drawn a sceptical response from Western scientists and the World Health Organization, which have said the vaccine still needed a rigorous safety review.

"SLOW THE SPREAD"

France has vowed to impose a "reciprocal measure" on Britain's quarantine move, leaving French holidaymakers set to face tough choices in the coming days.

The Netherlands said it would advise against all but essential travel to the UK, but will not introduce self-isolation measures for arrivals.

Germany added most of Spain – where cases have surged in recent weeks – to its list of regions from where arrivals must show a negative COVID-19 test or quarantine for two weeks.

The restrictions include the island of Mallorca, a highly popular resort for German sunseekers.

Austria urged its citizens to return from popular Mediterranean destination Croatia before similar rules come into effect Monday, while Serbia introduced mandatory testing for travellers from four neighbouring countries.

And thousands of Albanians queued for miles in their cars at the Greek border before tougher entry requirements designed to brake mounting infections began.

The United States also said it was extending a ban on non-essential travel through border crossings with Canada and Mexico throughout most of September to slow the spread of the disease.

– 'Promising' vaccines –

A slew of data Friday revealed the scale of the economic impact of the virus and punishing lockdowns, with Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania, the Netherlands, Finland and Denmark all booking hefty hits to GDP in April-June.

Denmark and Hungary both reported their worst slumps since the early 1990s and Poland entered its first recession since the end of the communist era.

Hopes to break the cycle of outbreaks and lockdowns decimating economies have turned to a vaccine, with Britain announcing it has secured access to another 90 million doses of two "promising" vaccines.

Vietnam said it was looking to buy a bulk order of Russia's vaccine.

And Washington said it would distribute any inoculation proven to be effective to all Americans for free.

Mexico announced it and Argentina aim to have a vaccine available for Latin America — now the region with the worst virus toll and most cases — early next year under a production agreement with drug giant AstraZeneca.

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