Several European countries have reported a resurgence of cases or large localised outbreaks of COVID-19, and there is still ‘community transmission’ in most EU/EEA countries, according to a report released on Thursday (2 June). The report called for continued vigilance despite noting decreasing trends in incidence across Europe overall.
The report, published by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), found that, as of 30 June, several countries had a 14-day incidence of reported cases greater than 10 per 100 000, including Bulgaria, Croatia, Poland, Portugal and the UK.
Five of these countries reported increases of 10% or greater compared to that of the previous 14 days.
Furthermore, data from the latest sero-epidemiological studies indicate that although the adaptive immunity of populations is slowly increasing in some countries or regions, this remains low overall in Europe.
The assessment concluded that the overall risk of COVID-19 transmission rising further in these countries is considered “very high”, particularly if a “strong monitoring framework is not in place to detect, characterise and respond to any upsurge in incidence, if robust testing and tracing systems are not in place and if physical distancing and other non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) are eased too rapidly”.
NPIs are actions that people and communities can take, besides vaccination and taking medicine, to help slow the spread of illnesses like coronavirus. This includes social distancing and the wearing of protective masks.
However, it also cautioned there could be a number of reasons behind this apparent increase, saying that this could also be a reflection of changes in surveillance strategies, including an increase in testing or a change in the definition of a COVID-19 case.
It therefore warned that the information must be interpreted with care, saying that national authorities should consider carefully analysing every increase in incidence to assess whether these are associated with genuine increases in transmission and whether these involve vulnerable populations.
The assessment listed a number of recommendations in order to maintain a reduced level of transmission and avoid resurgence, including a “strong risk communication strategy that should remind citizens that the pandemic is not over”.
The report also recommended the “long-term sustainable implementation of essential NPIs, irrespective of transmission rates,” emphasising the importance of flexibility to amend strategies rapidly in response to indications of increased transmission.
It also highlighted the importance of a robust monitoring framework to closely follow the epidemiological situation and rapidly detect increased transmission, including a framework for contact tracing, possibly supported by electronic tools and applications.
Andrea Ammon, ECDC director, said that while decreasing or stable trends in disease incidence are being observed in Europe overall, there is still community transmission reported “in most countries”. Community transmission means there is no clear source of origin of the infection in a new community.
“Some countries are also reporting an increasing number of cases or large localised outbreaks, which is another reminder that the pandemic is far from over. We all need to continue our efforts to avoid increases in transmission and protect those population groups at risk of severe disease.”
“A robust monitoring framework and expanded testing and contact tracing strategy are crucial components in an effective response. At an individual level, we should maintain physical distancing whenever possible, remain vigilant and continue exercising proper hand hygiene,” Ammon added.