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COVID-19

Which countries in Europe would be on the EU’s list of ‘dark red zones’ for Covid-19?

The EU has proposed imposing extra travel restrictions on parts of Europe with very high rates of Covid-19 infections, but which countries would currently be included on the list?

Which countries in Europe would be on the EU's list of 'dark red zones' for Covid-19?
AFP

With Covid-19 infection rates rising around Europe the EU has been under pressure to introduce coordinated travel restrictions for those moving within the EU.

Last week The Local reported the announcement by EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen regarding the proposal to classify parts of Europe with high infection rates as “dark red zones”.

“People travelling from dark red zones could be required to do a test before departure, as well as to undergo quarantine after arrival. This is within the European Union,” she said.

According to the commission, the new dark red category is to be introduced to indicate “areas where the virus is circulating at very high levels, including because of more infectious variants of concern”.

The official map has not yet been published but will be created by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC).

The EU executive is against border closures and instead has suggested tightening the restrictions in regions with an incidence rate of more than 500 infections per 100,000 inhabitants.

“The common map and a common approach to proportionate, non-discriminatory restrictions must still guide our efforts. What we need now in view of the new variants is even more coordination and a joint European effort to discourage non-essential travel. Border closures will not help, common measures will,” said Commissioner for Justice, Didier Reynders.

READ ALSO: These are the current travel restrictions in place around Europe

As of Monday January 25th, Portugal, Spain, the Czech Republic, Ireland, Slovenia, Lithuania, Latvia, Sweden, Slovakia, Estonia, Cyprus, the Netherlands and Malta have all reported more than 500 infections per 100,000 inhabitants during the last two weeks, EU Observer reports.

However by Tuesday January 26th Sweden's incidence rate had dropped below the threshold to 479/ 100,000.

Spain's current infection rate as of Tuesday January 26th was an average of 885/100,000 inhabitants over a 14 day period but in some regions the infection rate had risen to 1,400/100,000.

But within certain countries not on that list above, such as Italy and France, there are regions where the infection rates are pushing towards are even over the 500/100,000 threshold set by the Commission.

As well as the dark red zones European countries would also be classified into green, orange, red and grey areas, as they are already in maps produced by the ECDC.

The Commission is also proposing additional safety measures for the EU's external borders.

Travel into the EU is heavily restricted but essential trips are allowed. The Commission proposes that all travellers should undergo testing before departure as well be subject to a period in self-isolation of up to 14 days and further testing.

Additionally international travellers would be required to complete and submit a “passenger-locator” form, used by member states for contact tracing.

Certain groups, such as cross-border workers, transport staff, or people living in border regions, should be exempt from some restrictions, the commission added.

The EU Commission can only make recommendations and it is up to the EU council whether to approve them. 

But given borders are governed at a national level many countries within the EU and Schengen area have already taken action to impose these kind of measures.

The question of imposing restrictions on internal borders to fight the spread of more contagious Covid-19 variants has risen to the fore in recent days, pushed mainly by concerns raised by Germany and France.

Germany had proposed temporary and limited bans on all passenger traffic from non-EU countries if necessary, whilst France on Thursday night announced that anyone entering France by air or sea from within the EU must present a negative Covid-19 test. Hauliers and cross-border workers are exempt.

Border restrictions are a matter for individual member states but France and Germany plus EU officials in Brussels have been pushing for a coordinated response after the travel chaos that occurred during the first wave of the pandemic in spring 2020.

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HEALTH

FACT CHECK: Are Brits banned from giving blood in Sweden?

In many countries, potential blood doners who lived in the UK between 1980 and 1996 are banned from giving blood due to a risk of mad cow disease. What's the situation like in Sweden?

FACT CHECK: Are Brits banned from giving blood in Sweden?

Why are Brits banned from giving blood in some countries?

Blood donation bans for anyone living in the UK between 1980-96 are currently in place across Europe: Spain, Italy, Belgium, France, Austria, Switzerland, Germany, Denmark and Norway all currently have permanent bans on donating blood for anyone in this group.

Brits in this group are also banned from giving blood in the US and Canada.

These bans were originally introduced in the 90s amid an outbreak of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) in the UK, commonly referred to as “mad cow disease” in English, or galna ko-sjukan in Swedish.

Mad cow disease is spread by eating the meat of affected cattle, hence the ban for people resident in the UK during the outbreak.

There’s currently no way of screening blood for BSE, and with estimates suggesting that as many as one in 2,000 people in the UK could carry the disease, many countries chose to ban donations from this group altogether back in the 90s as a precautionary measure.

Now, some countries – such as Ireland in 2019 and Australia in 2022 – have started to lift bans on British blood donations, following reviews of epidemiological data and expert advice.

What’s the situation like in Sweden?

In Sweden, the situation is slightly different. Anyone wanting to give blood must answer a series of questions on their medical and personal history, including a question asking whether they lived in the UK for six months between 1980 and 1996.

The Local contacted GeBlod, Sweden’s blood donor organisation, to ask about this question and what it means for prospective blood donors in Sweden.

“In Skåne, it’s possible to donate blood even if you have lived in the UK for more than six months between 1980 and 1996,” Ingrid Johansson, GeBlod spokesperson for the Skåne region told The Local.

“We split the bag of blood which is donated into red blood cells, plasma and platelets. The plasma can also be sent to medicine production if it’s not given to the patient.”

Johansson said that this could differ in different regions.

“In Skåne, we don’t send this plasma [from those living in the UK at this time] to medicine production. You can donate blood, but the plasma won’t be used to make medicines, it will go to patients, like most plasma does.”

It may seem counterintuitive that plasma can be given to patients but not used in medicine production, but it’s because of pharmaceutical regulations.

Pharmaceutical companies often make drugs for sale all over the world, meaning that it is easier to comply with international rules on British blood use in medicines rather than use materials which won’t be accepted in some countries.

Although many countries have begun to allow British blood donors to donate blood, it would require each individual country with a ban on British blood to change their laws before medicines using British plasma could be approved worldwide.

Johansson said that regulations could differ in different areas of Sweden, so it’s a good idea to check with your local blood donation centre first if you’re interested in donating blood.

“In some parts of Sweden, they don’t send plasma to the same company we do, rather to another company. It depends on what requirements the company has.”

She stressed that it was important to donate blood anyway if you can, even though they might not be able to use all parts of the blood you donate if you’re in this group.

“We need all the blood donors we can get – what you should do though, is contact the blood donation centre if you were in the UK for more than six months between 1980 and 96, and let them know, just to make sure they can use your blood.”

The Local also contacted Ingrid Engström, GeBlod’s communications officer in Stockholm, who said Brits are able to give blood there.

“If you’ve lived in the UK during this time, we don’t use your plasma. That’s plasma for medicine production.”

“These are national questions – the same questions are used across Sweden,” she said. “The question we ask is ‘have you stayed in the UK for more than six months between 1980 and 1996?’ and then you answer ‘yes, I have’, and then we ask if you were ill or if any of your close family have had mad cow disease. If you answer ‘no’ to that question, you can donate blood. We just won’t use your plasma.”

You must be able to speak Swedish – unless you live in Stockholm

“In Stockholm – only in Stockholm – we can take donations from people who speak English,” Engström said. “We can carry out the health declaration in English”.

“It’s a good idea to call ahead to make sure you can get help – in most places, some of us are trained to carry out a health declaration in English. But it’s a good idea to call and make sure someone is working that day who can do that.”

Engström hoped that the service would be offered in other regions too.

“It’s a question of resources, really. Not all regions are able to do it.”

On top of speaking Swedish (or English in Stockholm), blood donors in Sweden must also have a Swedish personal number and Swedish ID – such as a drivers licence or Skatteverket’s ID card.

What about other countries?

Those who were born and raised in tropical areas with a malaria risk may have to wait before giving blood, even if they’ve never had the disease.

“You can’t have had malaria, and if you spent your first five years of life in a country which has a malaria risk and you travel back to that area, you’ll be banned from giving blood for three years. So if you go back often, you might never be able to give blood,” Engström explained.

“If you’ve ever had malaria, you can’t donate blood. I could travel abroad and get malaria today, and I wouldn’t be able to donate blood any more,” she added.

“Otherwise, for everyone else, you can’t donate blood for six months after returning from an area with a malaria risk.”

How great is the need for blood in Sweden?

“There’s a great need for blood right now – everywhere, the number of operations has increased now that hospitals want to shorten their queues after the pandemic, so there’s a need for more blood to be able to complete these,” Engström said.

“In general, just in the Stockholm region, we use around 100 litres of blood a day in our hospitals. If we zoom out to the whole of Sweden, one bag of blood is used per minute, around the clock, every day of the year.”

“So it’s a lot. We need more people to give blood, we need a larger base – not everyone can run and go give blood four times a year or three times a year for women, that’s one thing, but on the other hand, we need a group of people who are able to give blood which we can call in, ask to come in and give blood now, for example.”

Engström also mentioned the importance of giving blood, specifically now and in the run-up to the summer months.

“You’re very welcome to come and give blood before you go on holiday. People go on holiday, obviously, but the healthcare need stays the same.”

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