Coronavirus: ECDC warns against health care systems being overwhelmed
Wednesday, 25 March 2020
The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) updated today its risk assessment. In view of the rapid increase in all EU of reported cases, the EU agency considers the risk of the healthcare system capacity being exceeded in the EU/EEA and the UK in the coming weeks as high.
ECDC stresses the need of mitigation measures but does not tell EU member states what exactly they should do to contain the spread of the virus and flatten the curve. Different countries have taken different measure depending on their specific situation but also because of different approaches to the spread of the virus.
Measures include curfews, partial lockdowns, travel restrictions, closing of borders, home guarantine and advice on social distancing. In most cases the measures have come too late as if member states, but also the EU, did not prepare for the worst scenario and thought that the virus would not reach them. While trying to do the right thing in each moment of the outbreak, they have been one or more steps behind.
ECDC´s risk assessment comes too late for Lombardy in Italy, the region that is the hardest hit in the country, where the hospitals are already over capacity. Spain is also in a similar situation.
To prevent their health care systems from being overwhelmed by patients with severe symptoms, all countries need now to do their utmost to increase their capacity by adding more intensive-care beds and respirators.
“All EU/EEA countries should by now have initiated appropriate, proportional and evidence-based response measures aimed at maintaining or increasing the capacity of their national intensive care and their health systems,” said Andrea Ammon, Director of ECDC.”
“We must all strictly adhere to the public health measures that the national authorities are implementing. Every effort must be made to protect the most vulnerable in our societies.”
Clinical presentations of COVID-19 range from no symptoms (asymptomatic) to severe pneumonia; severe disease can lead to death. In EU/EEA countries with available data, 30% of diagnosed COVID-19 cases were hospitalised and 4% had severe illness.
Hospitalisation rates were higher for those aged 60 years and above. Estimates of crude case-fatality for Germany, Italy and Spain showed that both the risk and absolute numbers of deaths rapidly increased with age for those aged 60 years and above in each country.
Among hospitalised cases, severe illness was reported in 15% of cases, and death occurred in 12% of these cases, with higher case–fatality rates in older adults.
In the present situation where COVID-19 is rapidly spreading in Europe, the current assessment is:
• The risk of severe disease associated with COVID-19 for people in the EU/EEA and the UK is currently considered moderate for the general population and very high for older adults and individuals with chronic underlying conditions.
• The risk of occurrence of widespread national community transmission of COVID-19 in the EU/EEA and the UK in the coming weeks is moderate if effective mitigation measures are in place and very high if insufficient mitigation measures are in place.
• The risk of healthcare system capacity being exceeded in the EU/EEA and the UK in the coming weeks is considered high.