Just how bad is the Covid situation in Spain, Italy and Greece?

Just how bad is the Covid situation in Spain, Italy and Greece?
Just how bad is the Covid situation in Spain, Italy and Greece?

Covid cases of the South African 'Beta' variant are falling in Spain and Greece while the outbreak in Italy is barely noticeable, official statistics suggest. 

There are mounting fears all three countries will be placed on a new 'amber watchlist' later this week, potentially sparking holiday misery for thousands by threatening to end quarantine-free travel for the double-jabbed.

The push to create the category was prompted by concern among health officials about the rise of the Beta variant, which scientists say makes vaccines less effective and was behind further restrictions being imposed on travellers returning from France last month.

But figures reveal cases of the mutant strain are either falling or very low in the three major destinations rumoured to be contenders for making it onto No10's list. 

And outbreaks of the variant in Italy and Spain are mostly away from tourism areas, data implies. But the variant appears to make up almost a third of tests on the Greek islands popular with British travellers. 

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Experts said today the data did not suggest that further travel restrictions were needed, and that the mutant strain was unlikely to 'outrun' the more transmissible Indian 'Delta' variant which is already dominant in Europe.

They said current rules requiring two jabs and proof of a negative test upon return to the UK 'should be enough to ease fears' over the spread of the mutant strain, adding officials should be 'more worried' about the UK's current crop of variants.

Official data also suggests daily Covid cases are already plateauing in Spain and Greece in a sign the worst of the outbreaks may already be behind them. Infections are mostly among 15 to 24-year-olds who are least at risk from the virus.

More than half of people in the countries are also already double-vaccinated, similar to the UK where it is closer to 60 per cent of the population when children are included.

Boris Johnson today hinted that a proposed 'amber watchlist' could be scrapped after a furious backlash from Tory MPs and warnings from travel bosses that the industry is in the 'last chance saloon'. Asked this afternoon whether he favoured the new category, the Prime Minister did not rule it out but said travel rules should be 'as simple and as user friendly for people as possible'.

It came hours after Digital Minister Matt Warman refused to dismiss concerns over the new list and insisted it was not over complicating travel restrictions to add another category. 

Professor Gary McClean, a microbiologist based at London Metropolitan University, told MailOnline: 'It's right to be concerned about Beta because we know it can escape vaccine induced immunity somewhat, particularly with the AZ vaccine used frequently in the UK. 

'However, with the rather limited spread of that variant currently in Europe and that it is likely not to outrun Delta, which has an impressive transmission ability, the current rules on travel requiring double jabs and evidence of a negative test should be enough to ease any fears over changes to the travel restrictions currently.'

He added: 'At the moment, we still need to be vigilant about the virus entering through the border but I'm more worried about the virus variants already here in the UK and how much Delta continues to spread, even among vaccinated individuals.'

Professor David Livermore, a microbiologist at the University of East Anglia, told MailOnline after viewing the data: 'I don't think further restrictions are appropriate. 

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'Despite (the Beta variant's) supposed advantage in the face of vaccines it is not — unlike Delta — expanding internationally or in the UK, where it has been recorded sporadically since early this year. I don't believe that we should predicate policy upon fears about it.' 

But scientists also warn variant data from Italy, Spain and Greece cannot be completely relied upon because they carry out much less sequencing than the UK. Each nation checks about 1,000 cases a week, compared to more than 30,000 in Britain.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps is due to update the Covid travel list on Thursday to outline which countries may get more or less travel restrictions. 

This graph shows the Covid cases in the UK, Spain, Greece and Italy. Britain has the second highest infection rate (387 cases per million people) with only Spain having more (509 per million). But cases are already dropping in Spain and have plateaued in Greece at 250. They are rising in Italy which is being linked to the country's victory in the Euros

This graph shows the Covid cases in the UK, Spain, Greece and Italy. Britain has the second highest infection rate (387 cases per million people) with only Spain having more (509 per million). But cases are already dropping in Spain and have plateaued in Greece at 250. They are rising in Italy which is being linked to the country's victory in the Euros

Cases of the South African variant — which was behind the move to slap tighter travel restrictions on France 1 are falling in Spain and Greece, according to the latest data. They are barely noticeable in Italy. The percentage is the proportion of cases down to the variant over the week to July 18 (left) and July 11 (right). Each country only checks around 1,000 cases for variants each week, compared to more than 30,000 a week in the UK

Cases of the South African variant — which was behind the move to slap tighter travel restrictions on France 1 are falling in Spain and Greece, according to the latest data. They are barely noticeable in Italy. The percentage is the proportion of cases down to the variant over the week to July 18 (left) and July 11 (right). Each country only checks around 1,000 cases for variants each week, compared to more than 30,000 a week in the UK

The UK is still carrying out the most Covid tests per week suggesting it has the most reliable figures for its outbreak. But the number of swabs done is also increasing in Greece, Spain and Italy to keep track of the virus there

The UK is still carrying out the most Covid tests per week suggesting it has the most reliable figures for its outbreak. But the number of swabs done is also increasing in Greece, Spain and Italy to keep track of the virus there

Covid deaths in Greece, the UK, Spain and Italy remain low amid the successful vaccination drive, this graph shows

Covid deaths in Greece, the UK, Spain and Italy remain low amid the successful vaccination drive, this graph shows

Spain has now managed to get two doses to a higher proportion of its population than the UK at almost 60 per cent, this graph shows. Italy has managed to double-jab more than half its population, and in Greece almost half are double-vaccinated

Spain has now managed to get two doses to a higher proportion of its population than the UK at almost 60 per cent, this graph shows. Italy has managed to double-jab more than half its population, and in Greece almost half are double-vaccinated

Spain: South African 'Beta' cases are falling and the Covid outbreak is mostly away from tourist areas

Spain may be pushed onto the watchlist later this week, despite data showing that rates of the Beta variant have fallen in recent weeks and outbreaks appear to be mostly away from tourist areas. 

The country is currently on the 'amber' list, allowing double-jabbed Britons to visit and dodge ten-day quarantine upon their return to the UK. 

If Spain is moved to the watchlist, it means the quarantine exemption could be dropped at short notice if ministers decide to mark it 'red' or 'amber plus'.

Officials have not explained why Spain could be slapped with extra travel restrictions, although it is thought to be linked to cases of the South African variant which spooked them into tightening rules for France.

Latest data submitted to the European Centre for Disease Outbreak and Control (ECDC) show there were no cases of the South African variant detected in the week to July 18. This was down from 1.7 per cent in the previous seven-day spell.

But this is based on only a handful of samples surveyed for variants. Only about 1,000 cases are checked every week, according to the ECDC.

The same data shows the more transmissible Indian variant is taking over in Spain, and already makes up almost half of all cases. In Britain this strain is responsible for more than 99 per cent of cases after 'outcompeting' other variants. 

Outbreaks of the mutant strain and the Brazilian 'Gamma' variant that also makes vaccines less effective — which are published together by the

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