It is possible to keep the coronavirus pandemic in check in Europe while also keeping the economy running and an education system in operation, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Thursday (20 August).
Speaking during an online press conference, Dr Hans Kluge, WHO Regional Director for Europe, maintained that although the risk of COVID-19 resurgence is never far away, we now know how to target the virus instead of targeting society.
“With the basic nationwide and additional targeted measures – we are in a much better position to stamp out these localized virus flare-ups. We can manage the virus and keep the economy running and an education system in operation,” he said, emphasising that the virus can now be managed differently than when COVID-19 first emerged.
Recent restrictions have shown that “we are learning how to apply smart, time-limited and risk-based measures, capable of reducing both the spread of COVID-19 and its impact on the wider society and economy,” he added.
Although Kluge praised the “phenomenal” efforts of countries to contain the spread of the virus, he stressed that it is now possible to save both “lives and livelihoods, it’s not a matter of one or the other”.
The European Region has registered 3.9 million cases corresponding to 17% of the global total that is approaching 22 million cases.
Although the epicentre of the pandemic is now in the Americas, other regions are also seeing a steep rise in cases.
Young people ‘at forefront’ of COVID-19 response
Kluge emphasised that the COVID-19 pandemic has created the largest disruption of education systems in history, affecting nearly 1.6 billion learners in more than 190 countries.
The WHO European Regional Office is convening a virtual meeting for all 53 countries on re-opening of schools and COVID-19 on 31 August where concrete actions will be discussed to ensure children receive proper education in safe settings.
Such options might include heightened hygiene and physical distancing in school settings for all and the introduction of targeted measures quickly and effectively to suit local circumstances, such as adjusting school schedules and limiting pupil numbers where cases are more widespread.
“Young people are at the forefront of the COVID-19 response and they have a powerful message to convey through their behaviour and their communication”, he stressed, adding that young people must be careful to “spread fun, but not spread the virus”.
Approaching influenza season ‘added strain’
However, he cautioned that Europe must make sure that it adopts the right public health measures in order to contain the virus while normal life resumes, stressing in particular that the approaching influenza season will increase pressure on healthcare services.
“It is critical that countries monitor flu activity and restore and reinforce routine sentinel surveillance to include both viruses, and that they promote flu vaccination for at-risk groups. This is even more important this year as we need to protect our hospitals and health workforce already coping with COVID-19, from being overwhelmed,” he said.
“This year, even more than previous years, we must support older people to get their flu jab early, in a safe environment”, Kluge stressed.
[Edited by Benjamin Fox]