quarantine, a source of tension in Europe

As the Covid-19 epidemic begins to increase again in Europe, more and more countries are introducing quarantine measures for travelers returning from destinations considered vulnerable within the EU. An unpopular preventative measure that creates tension.

Red areas that are getting bigger. As Europe faces a resurgence of the Covid-19 epidemic, several countries have decided to reintroduce quarantine measures within the European Union. Thus, since 15 August, all travelers from France wishing to enter the United Kingdom have been under house arrest for a period of 14 days. Germany has followed suit by adding Spain to its list of zones. in the risk zone. Recently, Norway, Austria and even Belgium have also introduced quarantines for travelers departing from certain European countries. Gradually, draconian border control seems to be establishing itself in Europe as an important measure. However, a debate continues about the true effectiveness of this type of quarantine and the logistical complexity it generates.

An effective health measure?

As a screening or wearing mask, quarantine is one of the preventive measures recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) to limit the Covid-19 pandemic. According to the WHO, its role is twofold because it can make it possible “to prevent the introduction of the disease into new regions” but also “reduce transmission between people to regions where COVID-19 is already circulating”. While the virus is widespread in most European countries, public authorities rely heavily on this measure to counter the epidemic wave.

“There are two ways to transmit the coronavirus, respiratory tract and through contact. Isolation necessarily reduces the risks and is therefore undeniably effective,” said Marc Gastellu-Etchegorry, epidemiologist at the Épicentre Médecin Sans Frontières, interviewed by France 24. “However, quarantine measures are applied in this context. with other preventive measures, such as social distance rules and mask wear, and there is currently little evidence to assess its individual effectiveness “.

A view shared by Jan-Cédric Hansen, a member of the French Society for Disaster Medicine: “If we take the example of influenza, a massive vaccination of the population does not prevent individual cases of influenza. But it allows to avoid outbreaks of the epidemic. “This is about quarantine; use it wisely, they have an undeniable effect on the overall epidemic situation.”

An unpopular measure that creates logistical problems

Quarantine is therefore an effective tool in the fight against Covid-19. Nevertheless, its application can be extremely restrictive. Most countries do not support travelers and simply require them to self-isolate for a period of 14 days at the place where they plan to stay. This is the case for travelers arriving from areas considered vulnerable by the United Kingdom, who must provide information about their accommodation and respect the quarantine with a fine of up to £ 3,200 (more at € 3,500). For 14 days, these travelers are not allowed to entertain friends, family or run errands, except in extremely necessary cases.

An extremely restrictive measure is therefore often seen with a negative eye by the population. But this aspect is a major obstacle to its effectiveness, according to Jan-Cédric Hansen. “Experience shows that when it comes to health measures, compliance is much more important than fear of sanctions. If we want to be effective, we must explain the complexity of the situation to the whole population. A great educational effort is crucial.” A pedagogy that seems to have been lacking when the quarantine announcement which was introduced by the British government on 13 August and which had led to a number of rushed returns to Britain despite warnings.

Political instrumentalization?

Why is Britain introducing such restrictive measures against France, a country less affected by the Covid-19 epidemic? “We can consider that the British decision is based on a statistical calculation,” suggests Marc Gastellu-Etchegorry. “England would impose a quarantine because it foresees an outbreak of cases in France. But in reality, the effect of this quarantine on such a affected country is minimal. It seems obvious that it is not justified on health grounds,” he concluded.

The move comes when British Prime Minister Boris Johnson faces accusations of negligence in dealing with the health crisis.

In any case, firmly at heart, France said through its Secretary of State for European Affairs, Clément Beaune, that she regretted this decision which “will lead to a measure of reciprocity”.

For Jan-Cédric Hansen, the Franco-British example is symptomatic of the poor management of quarantine on a European scale: “States quarantine countries with extremely severe repercussions for citizens. However, this measure would be much more effective. If it were based on the flow of goods and people within the EU and not at national borders.It does not make sense that after visiting a small Spanish village, where the population does not travel much, we are in quarantine in Germany, while the risk is much higher on a Paris-Berlin “Systematic quarantines imposed today by governments are too heavy and incomprehensible for the people.”