European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control’s new risk assessment shows need to step up coronavirus response in the EU

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This article is brought to you in association with the European Commission.


Today, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) published its updated risk assessment regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, alongside a set of guidelines for non-pharmaceutical interventions (such as hand hygiene, physical distancing, cleaning and ventilation).

The updated risk assessment shows that notification rates have increased steadily across the EU and the UK since August, and that the measures taken have not always been sufficient to reduce or control exposure. It is therefore crucial that Member States roll out all necessary measures at the first sign of new outbreaks. This includes stepping up testing and contact tracing, improving public healthcare surveillance, ensuring better access to personal protective equipment and medicines and ensuring sufficient health capacity, in line with the actions presented by the Commission in July.

Stella Kyriakides, Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, said: “Today’s new risk assessment clearly shows us that we cannot lower our guard. 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. This means that all 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. This might be our last chance to prevent a repeat of last spring.”

Andrea Ammon, Director of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, said: “We are currently seeing a worrying increase in the number of COVID-19 cases detected in Europe. Until there is a safe and effective vaccine available, rapid identification, testing, and quarantine of high-risk contacts are some of the most effective measures to reduce transmission. 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. The pandemic is far from over and we must not drop our guard.”

The ECDC’s risk assessment finds non-pharmaceutical interventions such as physical distancing, hygiene and the use of face masks have shown not to be sufficient to reduce or control exposure. At the same time, the impact of the increased rates varies across countries. While in some countries, the increase affects mainly younger people (15 to 49 years of age) resulting mainly in mild and asymptomatic cases, in other countries the rise leads to more deaths among the elderly. The current epidemiological situation poses an increasing risk for risk groups and health care workers and calls for immediate targeted public health action.

The ECDC identifies in its risk assessment several response options such as strengthening healthcare capacities and targeting public health actions on medically vulnerable individuals and healthcare workers. It calls for non-pharmaceutical interventions, testing strategies, contact tracing, quarantine measures, adequate risk communication and measures protecting mental health.

In its guidelines on non-pharmaceutical interventions against COVID-19, the ECDC presents available options for such interventions in various epidemiologic scenarios. The guidelines assess the evidence for the effectiveness of these interventions and address implementation issues, including potential barriers and facilitators.

Background

The ECDC plays a key role in assessing the threat from a scientific viewpoint. It produces rapid risk assessments and provides frequent epidemiological updates and technical support by issuing guidance for how to best respond to the outbreak. This guidance includes, but is not limited to, outbreak surveillance, preparedness and response planning and laboratory support.

On 15 July, the Commission adopted its Communication on Short-term EU health preparedness for COVID-19 outbreaks. The Communication stresses that the EU must be ready for possible resurgences of COVID-19 cases. Tackling new outbreaks efficiently will require closely coordinated, short and long-term actions to strengthen preparedness and response across all Member States.

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