Covid-19: ‘Last chance to prevent a repeat of last spring’, Commission warns
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Covid-19: ‘Last chance to prevent a repeat of last spring’, Commission warns

Credit: Belga

Europe’s Member states “must be ready to roll out control measures immediately and at the right time, at the very first sign of potential new outbreaks,” the European Commission warned on Thursday.

A risk assessment published by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) “clearly shows us that we cannot lower our guard,” said Commissioner for Health and Food Safety Stella Kyriakides in a press release.

“With some Member States experiencing higher numbers of cases than during the peak in March, it is abundantly clear that this crisis is not behind us. We are at a decisive moment, and everyone has to act decisively and use the tools we have,” Kyriakides said, underlining that “this might be our last chance to prevent a repeat of last spring.”

Social distancing, hygiene and face masks are not enough to reduce or control exposure, according to the ECDC.

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The centre “calls for non-pharmaceutical interventions, testing strategies, contact tracing, quarantine measures, adequate risk communication and measures protecting mental health,” the Commission said.

The Commissioner added at a press conference today (24 September) that the previous recommendations in July on combatting COVID-19 are more valid than ever. Member states will have to roll out measures immediately if they want to avoid a new overall lockdown.

A Commission proposal for coordination of travel restrictions is still awaiting approval by the Council. “Member states are still discussing it and need to deliver results faster,” she said but declined to comment on the reasons to the delay.

“It is also everyone’s responsibility to maintain the necessary personal protective measures such as physical distancing, hand hygiene and staying at home when feeling ill,” said ECDC Director Andrea Ammon.

“The pandemic is far from over and we must not drop our guard,” Ammon added.

Andrea Ammon raised the alarm when referring to the data in ECDCs risk assessment. “What we are doing now is to recommend what needs to be done to avoid a lockdown. As a package, the measures will have an impact.” The responsibility for implementing the measures lie with the countries.

Certain measures such as social distancing have been in place all the time and is the safest measure. The ECDC Director admitted that the use of face masks is varying by country and commented that they should be used whenever social distancing could not be respected.

As regards the issue of the length of quarantines, she disclosed that it is under discussion at ECDC. For the time being, the recommended period is 14 days but some countries have shortened it and combined it with more testing.

Asked by The Brussels Times about the significance of the epidemiological indicators, she said that the number of new cases of infected persons depends on both the number of tests and who are tested. It is necessary to look at the percentage of people tested positive since an increase in the rate indicates increasing transmission and is a clear alarm signal.

She referred to annex 3 in ECDC’s risk assessment. It includes a table showing case notification rates  and testing rates per 100.000 inhabitants, and the percentage of people tested positive among those tested, by country in week 37 (7 – 13 September).

Test positivity varies greatly by country, with Belgium somewhere at the lower end with a rate of 3,1%.

Europe is the world’s third-most affected region, according to the World Health Organisation, with 5,320,422 confirmed cases. That includes 106,887 confirmed cases in Belgium, the latest figures by the Sciensano public health institute show.

Jason Spinks
The Brussels Times