The EU and WHO urge European countries to take action now to avoid a new confinement

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Institutions insist on tightening restrictions to avoid a total closure

After more than half a year of attempts to dominate the coronavirus, the current increase in cases across Europe is a health threat, but also an economic and social one. A month ago, on September 15, the European Center for Disease Control (ECDC) had registered 2.3 million diagnosed in Europe; the figures from the same agency on Wednesday are 4.3 million, 87% more. “We are concerned with the data from Europe; now is the time to put restrictive measures ”, said the director for Europe of the WHO, Hans Kluge, this Thursday. The European Commission agrees: we must act decisively now, but gradually, to avoid having to reach closures like those at the beginning of the first wave. Confinements should be the last alternative, and they can be avoided, but the EU Health Commissioner, Stella Kyriakides, has transmitted an “urgent message” to the Member States on Thursday. “We are running out of time,” he assured. “Everyone has to do whatever it takes to avoid the devastating health, social and economic effects of widespread lockdown.”

The restrictions to contain the pandemic are hardening and multiplying across the continent, from Paris to Madrid and from Barcelona to Amsterdam. But, behind the warning messages, given the diversity of situations on the continent – taking the cumulative incidence at 14 days, Belgium stands at 469 cases per 100,000 inhabitants; Spain, in 265, and Norway, in 34―, the president of WHO Europe did not want to enter into concrete measures. He only insisted on the first of them: “A generalized and extensive use of the mask, and strict control over social groups.” If this were done to the letter, Kluge has said, more than 280,000 deaths would be prevented on the continent (so far, the ECDC data, with all the problems they have, is that there have been 197,000).

From there, the measures must be gradual, although Kluge has not opted for any in particular. It has made it clear that lockdowns like those at the beginning of the pandemic – “which were total closures,” said the WHO representative – should be the last solution. “We must find a balance between the health benefit and what we can call collateral damage,” he explained. Among them, he mentioned the economic ones, but also that it is necessary to maintain mental health services, care for victims of gender-based violence, children with special needs or those with chronic or acute diseases, such as cancer, cardiovascular diseases and also maintain vaccination programs. “

Another vital activity that must be preserved is educational. “You have to prioritize schools and keep them open as much as possible,” said Catherine Sherwood, head of emergencies at WHO Europe.

Those responsible for the organization have also referred to another aspect: the fatigue of the population after seeing that the pandemic is not defeated after months of efforts. For this, Kluge has pointed out the importance of offering reliable and solid data and seeking creative solutions to maintain social life in a safe way.

The EU Health Commissioner has referred to recent conversations with the WHO and considers that they are in tune: “We want to avoid going to a generalized confinement. We do not want to interrupt the social life, the working life, the education of the citizens. And this is the reason why we have to take containment measures ”. Asked about the thresholds from which to bet on them, and specifically about the advisability of closing bars and restaurants, she replied: “The Member States, based on their epidemiology, are taking different measures and I will not comment on whether they have to to close or not bars and restaurants ”.

Kyriakides has released his emergency message during the presentation of a joint vaccination strategy for the Twenty-Seven. The proposal, made by the Commission, represents a further step in the coordinated response that Brussels intends to carry out by the time the nearly one billion doses that the EU already has committed arrive, if they arrive. So far, purchase agreements have been signed with three laboratories and “exploratory talks” have been held with three others.

Although the Community Executive still does not give specific dates, Commissioner Kyriakides has mentioned the possibility that the doses may be available at the beginning of 2021. In any case, their offer will not arrive at once and the supply will be limited initially, reason that justifies the proposal launched this Thursday. The Commission claims to give priority to the vaccination of different groups such as health workers, people over 60 years of age, the vulnerable population due to chronic diseases, essential workers who are not in the health sector, communities where it is not feasible maintain social distance (such as prisons), jobs where the same occurs (such as slaughterhouses) and socioeconomically vulnerable groups.

The Health Commissioner avoided dwelling on the percentage of the population to be vaccinated: “We still need to know what vaccine we will have and how it will work,” he said. But he did emphasize the idea that you have to keep working to be “prepared.” The strategy presented this Thursday invites States to start planning how to carry out the effective deployment of vaccines, entering into logistics and distribution issues.

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