Merkel chides Portugal for allowing in Brits amid Delta variant

German chancellor takes an aim at Lisbon which has allowed the entry of British tourists and now faces a spike of coronavirus infections.

Merkel chides Portugal for allowing in Brits amid Delta variant

German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned Tuesday that the EU is “backfiring” in its goal to set consistent travel rules as countries take varying approaches to the surge of a new COVID variant in Britain.

Her critical remarks singled out Portugal, which has allowed the entry of British tourists despite the highly infectious Delta virus variant actively circulating in the U.K.

“What I regret is that we have not yet been able to achieve a uniform behavior among the member states in terms of travel restrictions. That is backfiring,” Merkel said at a joint press conference in Berlin with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

“We now have a situation in Portugal that could perhaps have been avoided, and that’s why we have to work even harder on this,” Merkel added. “We’ve made pretty good progress in recent months, but we’re not yet where I would like the European Union to be.”

Coronavirus infections in Portugal have spiked in recent weeks from less than 500 reported cases a day in May to over 1,000 daily cases recently. According to local authorities, the Delta variant —  first detected in India — accounts for more than 60 percent of infections in the Lisbon and Tagus Valley region. The government on Friday imposed a weekend travel ban around the capital to stop its spread. 

The rise of infections comes about one month after Portugal, which currently holds the rotating Presidency of the Council of the EU, opened up to British tourists, even though other countries like Germany and France imposed a strict travel ban on the U.K. because of the rapidly spreading Delta variant. Spain equally allowed the entry of British tourists.

The EU has not yet added the U.K. to its list of countries considered safe enough to have their travel bans lifted. The list, however, is non-binding for EU countries.

The World Health Organization warned Friday that the Delta variant is fast becoming the globally dominant strain of COVID-19 because of its “significantly increased transmissibility.”

In her remarks at the press conference, Merkel also said that von der Leyen “has the full German support” in advancing a European health union, which would give the EU institutions more power in jointly coordinating health measures across the bloc.

Hanne Cokelaere contributed reporting.