The WHO recommends uncompromising but targeted measures and urges better adherence to personal protection directives.
Rabat – “These are, more than ever, pandemic times in Europe,” Hans Kluge of the WHO said about the continent’s spiraling second wave of COVID-19 infections. Kluge, the WHO’s regional director for Europe, opened his COVID-19 briefing on October 15 by emphasizing the scale of the current epidemic. “But pandemic times do not necessarily mean ‘dark times’,” he emphasized as he urged for tough yet targeted new measures and better adherence.
The long feared “winter surge” of COVID-19 cases in Europe is unfolding “exponentially,” according to Kluge. The developments raise great concern for the WHO, with cases and hospital admissions on the rise. COVID-19 has become the fifth leading cause of death on the continent.
The situation in Europe is dire. Member states reported almost 700,000 new cases last week alone, marking the highest weekly incidence increase since the start of the pandemic. The unfortunate resurgence of the virus has meant over 1,000 European COVID-19-related fatalities every day, according to Kluge’s report. Confirmed COVID-19 cases in Europe grew from 6 to 7 million in a mere 10 days.
Last weekend saw several new records with daily totals surpassing 120,000 new cases on both Friday Saturday. The WHO is now registering two to three times as many cases as it did during April peaks yet deaths are still down and hospital admissions are lower. Still, the virus has not changed, Kluge emphasized: “It has not become more or less dangerous.”
Government action required
Kluge recommended the introduction of “uncompromising” measures by governments across Europe. While the WHO considers measures such as universal lockdowns as unsustainable, simple protocols such as wearing face masks could save hundreds of thousands of lives. If Europe could reach 95% mask adherence and “strictly control” social gathering, the WHO says this would save more than 280,000 lives by February.
The global health institution is urging authorities to work now to slow down the spread of the COVID-19 within Europe. This would provide more time for a response to a second wave and prevent a new peak in cases. “These projections confirm what we always said, the pandemic won’t reverse its course on its own, but we will.” Kluge called for a “proportional and targeted response” as the “way forward.”
The health official commended governments for tightening measures—they are absolutely necessary and appropriate responses to the incoming COVID-19 data, according to the WHO’s Europe chief. Kluge again confirmed that transmission and sources of contamination mainly occur in homes and indoor public events.
The WHO also stressed the problem of non-compliance that is helping the virus spread. For “communities poorly complying with self protection measures,” the official called for “uncompromising” measures to ensure adherence and prevent large gatherings from occurring.
Governments implement these types of measures because of empirical data showing an escalating number of COVID-19 cases in specific regions across Europe. The measures aim to keep the EU ahead of the curve: “They are there to save lives from COVID-19,” Kluge stated for emphasis. He blamed any further tightening of measures on the “failure to comply with preceding ones.”
Compliance with COVID-19 measures is an essential way to prevent further measures from becoming a necessity. Preventing new lockdowns or increased stringent measures is “up to us,” Kluge said. His remarks were clearly directed at prevalent skepticism of COVID-19 measures in Europe.
A revised approach
New lockdowns would be different from those experienced in the spring because the WHO’s knowledge and abilities have greatly improved as more became known about the virus. New lockdowns would not be the “shut-down” experienced in March, which happened because “we were caught off guard.”
The WHO urges governments to take into account the economic consequences of lockdowns as well as secondary consequences such as worsening mental health and gender-based domestic violence. The WHO in Europe recommends that schools remain open to prevent “collateral damage” to students while ensuring alternative education is available for at-risk pupils.
The continued need for treatment of cancer and cardiovascular disease is an essential concern for the WHO. Additionally, the organization is urging a “dual track health response” that combines COVID-19 monitoring with tracking the impact on mental health and exhausted frontline workers.
“We call on governments and people alike to express empathy,” Kluge concluded, urging engagement and dialogue with those people suffering the most from the measures. The WHO hopes to ensure “hope, engagement and trust” prevail among those worst affected, and often most skeptical parts of society, amid Europe’s COVID-19 crisis.