Greece joins coronavirus ‘club’ as Commission calls for coordination

It’s the first Coronavirus incident in the country following the outbreak in neighbouring Italy. [EPA/ ABEDIN TAHERKENAREH]

A 38-year-old woman was reported as the first case of coronavirus in Thessaloniki, Greek media reported on Wednesday (26 February), as the virus continued spreading through Europe.

It is the first recorded coronavirus incident in the country following the outbreak in neighbouring Italy.

She is being monitored by a team of specialised scientists while her recent contacts with other people are being tracked. Those who came in contact with her lately will be voluntarily isolated.

Greek media reported that the woman had been in Milano and travelled back to Greece by car.

The ministry of health called for calm, as the disease generally remains mild. However, it recommended that people coming from the affected areas of northern Italy should monitor their health and, in case of symptoms, stay home and notify their doctor.

More than ten different contingency plans for the spread of coronavirus in the country are ready for implementation by the General Secretariat for Civil Protection. Each of them is based on separate scenarios regarding the incidence area and rate of proliferation.

The “nightmare” scenario, where the pandemic spreads in one of the two biggest cities – Athens and Thessaloniki – envisages the activation of the police and the armed forces, measures to block traffic on large building blocks as well as shutting down the metro.

EU calls for coordination

The EU’s Health Security Committee forecast on 24 February a “moderate to high” risk of more new coronavirus clusters of the type happening in northern Italy.

Similarly, the World Health Organisation has said countries around the globe should prepare for a “potential pandemic”.

Speaking at a joint news conference in Rome with the Italian health minister Roberto Speranza, EU health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides call on EU member states to coordinate to face this critical situation.

“All member states need to inform us of their preparedness plans […] Diverging approaches across the EU should be avoided,” she said, adding that closing borders would be a “disproportionate and inefficient” measure.

The Cypriot Commissioner said the EU is still in the containment phase but given how quickly the situation can change, the public health system “must be prepared to deal with more cases of infections”.

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WHO: careful with the word ‘pandemic’

Earlier on Wednesday, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom warned against the careless use of the word “pandemic”.

“The increase in cases outside China has prompted some media and politicians to push for a pandemic to be declared. We should not be too eager to declare a pandemic without a careful and clear-minded analysis of the facts,” he told a press conference in Geneva.

He added that WHO has already activated the highest level of alarm but using the word pandemic carelessly has “no tangible benefit”.

“But it does have a significant risk in terms of amplifying unnecessary and unjustified fear and stigma, and paralysing systems,” Adhanom emphasised.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

CORONAVIRUS DEVELOPMENTS

In Austria, the first coronavirus infection was confirmed. Two Italians who have been living in Innsbruck but originate from Lombardy which is Italy’s most affected part, have been found to have been infected by the coronavirus. For now, they will remain in quarantine, already feeling better.

To further minimise the risk of spreading, the hotel where one of them works has been locked down until further notice. The border to Italy, however, will not be closed down as such a measure would be “inappropriate”, said Health Minister Rudolf Anschober (Greens), after a meeting with some of his European counterparts. (Philipp Grüll | EURACTIV.de)

In Belgium, several tourists returning from Italy since Monday have expressed their concern about the lack of health inspections upon arrival at the Belgian airports, the country’s media reported. The Belgian health ministry ordered airports to train their employees, but has not suggested a systematic screening of passengers arriving from any region of the world.

The idea of ​​pre-emptively closing borders between states “makes no sense,” Belgian’s health minister Maggie de Block said. “A virus does not stop at borders”, and a control of passenger’s temperature “is useless either”, as one can be a carrier of the virus without showing symptoms, she added. Belgium has tested more than 150 people, all negative except a repatriated man from Wuhan. (Alexandra Brzozowski | EURACTIV.com)

In Rome, Italy’s PM Giuseppe Conte said that it was not fair to limit access for Italian citizens to foreign countries.

“We can’t accept that. Our citizens can leave the country safely, for them and for others,” he said.

While the Bulgarian carrier has suspended flights to Milan until 27 March, Iraq and Jordan are prohibiting travellers from Italy from entering. Countries such as the UK, the Netherlands and France are requesting people coming from outbreak areas in Italy to self-isolate even if they do not carry any symptoms. (Gerardo Fortuna | EURACTIV.com)

Spanish hospitals ready for “worst-case scenario”. The Spanish national health system is ready in case of outbreak of the coronavirus (COVID-19) epidemic across the country, EURACTIV’s partner EFE reported.

Meanwhile in Athens, the government has met with TV news directors and asked them to be “sober” in their reporting when it comes to coronavirus.

Read the full story.

In Poland, while Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki reassured that Poland is “ready for an attack of coronavirus”, his health minister had previously said that “sooner or later, the coronavirus will come to Poland”.

Members of the opposition, however, do not believe the PM and criticised his approach. “Poland is completely unprepared to defend itself against the coronavirus. The prime minister’s conferences on defending against the coronavirus are all lies. Words can’t protect against the disease. It’s not about sowing panic, but prevention is better than a cure,” wrote Senator Wadim Tyszkiewicz.  (Łukasz Gadzała | EURACTIV.pl)

Panic about the coronavirus has spread among Czech citizens, despite the fact that no cases have been reported so far. “The Czech Republic is definitely among the EU member states that have taken the strictest measures,” said Health Minister Adam Vojtěch. The State Security Council discussed the situation on Tuesday evening (25 February) and Czech airports have taken special measures against the coronavirus. (Aneta Zachová | EURACTIV.cz)

In Zagreb, Croatian authorities have officially confirmed the first patient diagnosed with the COVID-19, while another suspected case is currently being treated in the City of Rijeka. Both patients have just returned from Italy.

The first patient to test positive for coronavirus is showing mild signs of the disease and is isolated in Zagreb’s hospital, according to information provided by Health Minister Vili Beroš, who is set to visit Italy today, where he will meet other EU health ministers and discuss the epidemic. (Tea Trubić Macan, EURACTIV.hr)

In Sarajevo, pilgrims are victims of COVID-19. Tourist workers in Međugorje, the famous unofficial town of Catholic pilgrimage, Međugorje, have cancelled the arrival of Italian guests. This means that the traditional International Seminar for pilgrimage organisers from all over the world, which welcomes the most participants from Italy, has been cancelled for the first time. (Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)

In Serbia, President Aleksandar Vucic asked the World Health Organisation (WHO)’s Regional Director for Europe, Hans Kluge, on Tuesday (25 February) for additional assistance and support in curbing the spread of coronavirus. Vucic and Kluge agreed that the spread of panic and fake news in Serbia and across Europe was more dangerous than the disease itself, according to a release issued after the meeting.

Serbia is well-prepared to address all kinds of health-related risks and emergency situations, including the outbreaks and epidemics at the global level, wrote Kluge in a statement published in yesterday’s issue of Belgrade daily Politika.

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