French sailor Charlie Dalin retained a slim lead as exhausted skippers entered the final hours of the Vendée Globe, locked in the tightest battle in the solo round-the-world race's history.
After sailing more than 28,650 nautical miles, Dalin, on board Apivia, was less than 382.57nm off Les Sables d'Olonne where the leading boats are expected to conclude their maritime odyssey on Wednesday.
The tone of urgency was fuelled by fears over the spread of highly contagious coronavirus variants that could send already high infection rates skyrocketing and strain hospitals, as is happening in former EU member Britain.
"All non-essential travel should be strongly discouraged both within the country and of course across borders," von der Leyen, head of the European Commission, told a media conference.
Michel, president of the European Council, said: "It will be probably necessary to take additional restrictive measures in order to limit the non-essential travels and that is the orientation that we are taking."
Both added that further coordination on that issue would be made in "the next days".
But both also said the EU wanted to avoid a repeat of the height of the first wave, in March last year, when several member states panicked and closed off national borders unilaterally, triggering travel and economic chaos.
"It is absolutely important to keep the single market functioning," von der Leyen said, so that workers and freight can continue to cross borders.
The European Union is "one epidemiological zone," she said.
"We will only contain the virus if we have targeted measures, and not unnecessary measures like a blanket closure of borders, which would severely hurt our economy, but not very much restrict the virus."
But to avoid closing the intra-EU borders in the passport-free Schengen zone, testing needs to be stepped up, leaders agreed.
From Sunday, anybody arriving from outside the EU -- possible only for those with essential reasons -- could have to have a test for Covid-19 before departure, von der Leyen said.
Within the EU, some countries will apply prior testing for cross-border trips that do not come under essential categories such as workers and truck drivers.
From Sunday France will require a negative PCR test 72 hours before departure for most European arrivals other than those on essential travel, President Emmanuel Macron told the European Council, according to his office.
A statement from Macron's office said "some of his European counterparts" have also chosen this approach.
Variant spreading in Portugal
The summit also backed wider use of antigen tests in other situations deemed low-risk. Those tests, often using saliva samples, are cheaper and faster -- though less reliable -- than nose-probing PCR tests.
Thursday's summit started just as the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control said there was a "very high" probability of the more contagious variants spreading in the European Union.
These mutations -- which emerged in Britain, South Africa and Brazil -- have already prompted bans or restrictions on travellers from those countries.
Belgium -- wedged between Germany, France and the Netherlands -- had gone into the summit pleading for a "temporary" closure during its February holiday period.
Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz had also voiced support "for stricter entry controls and testing requirements to keep virus mutations out".
Currently, the concerning variants remain a tiny proportion of overall cases in most of the EU.
But Portugal is serving as an early warning of what may be to come.
Its government ordered schools closed for two weeks because of the rapid spread of the British variant, which Prime Minister Antonio Costa said accounted for 20 percent of infections and could make up 60 percent as soon as next week.
While there was no indication as yet the new variants were more deadly, there were concerns their faster spread could overload hospital intensive care capacity.
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After a disappointingly slow start to vaccination in the EU, the European Commission has been urging greater speed from member states.
It hopes to soon authorise more vaccines beyond the BioNTech/Pfizer and Moderna ones currently being injected, and aims to inoculate 70 percent of adults in the EU before September.
The leaders also discussed vaccine certificates, something tourism-dependent countries such as Greece hope might ease travel curbs and save what looks like another disastrous summer vacation period.
But EU leaders decided it was too early and too many questions remained for such a certificate to be used as anything more than a health record.
From Lady Gaga to Lin-Manuel Miranda, Bruce Springsteen to Katy Perry, top performers delivered musical messages of diversity, unity and hope in a star-studded, socially distanced extravaganza celebrating US President Joe Biden’s inauguration.
The cultural events, bringing together some of America’s biggest stars, marked a sharp contrast with Donald Trump’s 2017 inauguration, which was low on celebrity power.
A full-throated, supremely confident Lady Gaga belted out the national anthem at President Joe Biden’s inauguration in a very Gaga way — with flamboyance, fashion and passion.
The Grammy winner wore a huge dove-shaped brooch and a billowing red sculpted skirt as she sang into a golden microphone, delivering an emotional and powerful rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” She was followed at Wednesday’s ceremony by Jennifer Lopez, dressed all in white, who threw a line of Spanish into her medley of “This Land is Your Land” and “America the Beautiful” — a pointed nod to multiculturalism, just two weeks after white supremacists and other violent rioters stormed the Capitol in an effort to undermine the peaceful transfer of power.
Netherlands begins Covid-19 vaccinations, later than other EU nations
Nearly two weeks after most other European Union nations, the Netherlands on Wednesday began its Covid-19 vaccination program, with nursing home staff and frontline workers in hospitals first in line for the shot.
Sanna Elkadiri, a nurse at a nursing home for people with dementia, was the first to receive a shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine at a mass vaccination center in Veghel, 120 km (75 miles) southeast of Amsterdam.
The Dutch government has come under fierce criticism for its late start to vaccinations. Prime Minister Mark Rutte told lawmakers in a debate Tuesday that authorities had focused preparations on the easy-to-handle vaccine made by Oxford University and AstraZeneca, which has not yet been cleared for use in the EU, and not the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
Dutch Health Minister Hugo de Jonge did not comment on the criticism as he spoke before Elkadiri rolled up the left sleeve of her purple nurse’s uniform to receive the first shot. Instead, he looked forward to a future with the virus under control.
“Finally, after 10 months of crisis, today we are starting to end this crisis,” De Jonge said. But he warned that, “it will take a while before we have all the misery behind us. ”
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which requires ultra-cold storage before it is used, is the only shot that has been approved so far by the EU’s medicines agency. The European Medicines Agency on Wednesday was considering approving another coronavirus vaccine, one made by Moderna.
“I’m very disappointed that we are two weeks behind other countries,” Rutte said in the Dutch parliament.
The Netherlands is in the midst of a five-week tough lockdown imposed when infection rates were spiking across the country. In recent days, infection rates have been edging lower, but the country’s public health institute said Tuesday that the lockdown has not yet produced a clear effect on infection rates.
The ninth edition of sailing's 'Everest' could still have a first ever non-French winner. German skipper Boris Herrmann in Seaexplorer-Yacht Club de Monaco was just 82.02nm behind Dalin at 1700 GMT.
Even if Herrmann fails to overhaul Dalin by the line he could still end up the winner as he is due a six-hour bonus for his part in the rescue of Kevin Escoffier off the Cape of Good Hope in December.
Louis Burton (Bureau Vallee 2) was third 132.2nm off first, followed by Thomas Ruyant (LinkedOut), 230nm off the pace and Yannick Bestaven (Maitre Coq IV) a further 36nm back in fifth.
Bestaven, like Herrmann, helped in Escoffier's rescue and will receive a 10hr 15min bonus when he makes port.
- Most of the states followed suit after 1833 and included clauses in their constitutions prohibiting imprisonment for owing money to someone.
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