Coronavirus: What impact does tourism have on epidemic outbreaks?

The city of Nice, particularly affected by the coronavirus, accuses tourism of being responsible for the epidemic outbreak – MAGONI PHILIPPE / SIPA

  • The Alpes-Maritimes department has an incidence three times higher than the national average, prompting the establishment of a local curfew on weekends on the coast.
  • Some local politicians believe that these figures are in part the result of a massive tourist influx in December and January.
  • Does tourism really play a role in disease outbreaks?

The Alpes-Maritimes have known for a few weeks
an epidemic outbreak. So much so that a local reconfinement on the coast was decided on Monday, for the next two weekends. In recent days, local politicians have followed one another in the media to point the finger at tourism, responsible according to them for the very high incidence rate of the department: 588 cases of
coronavirus per 100,000 inhabitants, while the national average is 202 cases.

On LCI, the deputy of the Alpes-Maritimes Marine Brenier (LR) justified this very high incidence by an influx of tourists during the holidays: “During the Christmas holidays, many people came, many tourists “, She declared, indicating that” the border areas [sur la carte de France, N.D.L.R] are the most affected due to the influx of tourists and round trips ”. The mayor of Nice, Christian Estrosi (LR), was also favorable this Sunday to a weekend confinement in the region in order to “discourage our visitors from coming during these winter holidays”. Tourism, real culprit or easy target? 20 Minutes make the point.

Can tourism explain epidemic outbreaks?

In some specific cases, yes. “It is certain that the mobility of the population is a major risk factor for the pandemic and for the creation of new clusters”, notes Antoine Flahault, epidemiologist and director of the Institute of Global Health at the University’s Faculty of Medicine. from Geneva. But this certainty only applies to areas little or not affected by the coronavirus.

Australia, for example, very little impacted by the coronavirus (the country thus has a death toll of 3.91 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants against 117.63 in France), notes that these clusters come from abroad. “Under these conditions, border control and tourism is an absolute necessity,” says the expert. Australia has thus completely closed its borders to its non-citizens (except immediate members of their families), except for reasons of national interest. Even these arrivals have to undergo a 14-day quarantine.

Does this apply to the case of Nice?

For Nice and many tourist areas in Europe, the question is much less easy to decide. Doctor Hélène Rossinot, specialist in public health, recalls that the incidence in Nice has always remained very high and has never really come down from the second wave. Same in Portugal or in Spain, two countries whose outbreak of cases in January would be linked to the winter holidays, but which already experienced a very high level of Covid-19 circulation in December.

For Antoine Flahault, “in Europe, or in any area where the virus circulates massively, we cannot make a clear link between tourism and outbreak of cases”. First, because with a high incidence, an increase can be largely multifactorial. Second, because contact tracing is more complicated, “we don’t know where the clusters and contamination come from, so we can only make assumptions,” sighs the epidemiologist.

Tracing is all the more difficult for French tourists traveling to France, as, as Hélène Rossinot reminds us: “The test data in the SI-DEP tool is provided by the patients’ main place of residence. “If a Parisian traveling to Nice is tested in Nice, he will be counted in the incidence of Paris. Difficult to see clearly.

The scarce information on the cases in Nice does not argue in this direction either. The two experts recall that the first cluster would come from the district of Ariane, popular area much more than touristy of Nice. Even today, it is this kind of neighborhood that is blazing in the metropolis. In the same vein, Portugal saw its cases increase again shortly before the winter holidays.

Does it still make sense to regulate tourism more closely in areas that already have a high impact?

Even though tourism is not the main cause of the surge in cases in Nice or elsewhere in Europe, wanting to limit it when the coronavirus figures are so bad makes good sense. “It’s a good thing to limit contacts as much as possible, including with other countries,” says Hélène Rossinot. When an area is in flames, limiting movement and meetings there is never a bad thing.

Especially since in addition to perhaps lowering the circulation of the virus in its territory, cutting Nice off French tourists can be beneficial … for the rest of the country. “Since the incidence is three times higher there, we can be happy that French people from less contaminated regions do not come there – or less -, taking less risk of catching the virus and bringing it back to areas less contaminated. affected, ”said Antoine Flahault. In wanting to protect itself from tourists, it is perhaps the tourists that the department is protecting.

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