The European Commission wants countries and citizens to wake up to the pandemic’s second wave — warning that otherwise, the EU will have to resort to strict lockdowns again.
Coronavirus cases are spiking in many EU countries, with some posting rates even higher than in March.
“It might be our last chance to prevent a repeat of last spring,” warned Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides in a press conference Thursday.
Measures have neither been effective enough nor properly enforced, she said.
“We must prevent a situation when governments feel they have no choice but to impose generalized lockdowns,” Kyriakides said. “This will be detrimental to our mental health, detrimental to our economies, detrimental to the wellbeing and the education of our children, detrimental to our working and daily lives.”
Andrea Ammon, director of the EU’s infectious disease agency, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), presented the agency’s latest risk assessment, which described three different situations unfolding across Europe.
The first are “stable” countries like Belgium, which have low numbers of cases among elderly people, as well as a low incidence of severe disease and death. These countries are considered low risk, according to the ECDC.
The second are “concerning” countries like Luxembourg, which have increasing case numbers due to increased testing. Transmission is primarily among young people, and there is a low number of severe cases and deaths. These countries are at a moderate risk.
The third are countries of “high” concern like Spain, which see cases increasing for all groups. It also has a high proportion of hospitalized and severe cases, along with a rising death toll. The risk is considered elevated.
Still, the risk for vulnerable populations in all these countries is “very high,” Ammon added.
The Commission is doing what it can, the health commissioner said, jointly procuring remdesivir — a medicine authorized, along with dexamethasone, to treat COVID-19 patients — and will procure more medicines. It’s also publishing a “lessons learned” package in November.
Kyriakides also urged countries to “move ahead” with harmonized travel rules “to ensure more clarity and predictability for residents.”
“It is extremely important,” she said.
One of the worrying signs highlighted by the ECDC is that many people infected in the EU are young people who could easily transmit the virus to the elderly and vulnerable.
However, young people can also have severe COVID-19 cases, warned Ammon, noting that 44 percent of such cases in the past four weeks were Europeans aged 15 to 49.
Ammon and Kyriakides said countries need to specifically reach out to younger people, who feel invincible and don’t believe they will transmit the virus.
Countries need “to make them understand the situation that we are all up against,” Kyriakides stressed.
Still, when asked about specific recommendations to target younger populations, like closing bars or schools, Ammon said each country will have to adjust to its own situation.
“Countries should identify those settings where, in particular, younger people meet,”and then decide whether they have to be closed or whether they should restrict access to those settings to ensure social distancing, she said.
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