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4th Dec 2020

Coronavirus

EU Commission's Covid-19 expert offers bleak outlook

  • 'This is not going to be over until it’s over everywhere,' said Belgian microbiologist Peter Piot (Photo: M.G.N. - Marcel ON OF)

The European Commission's top scientific pandemic adviser has offered a sober prognosis on available options to eradicate Covid-19.

There are four theoretical ways out of the pandemic, Belgian microbiologist Peter Piot who is a special advisor to the European commission president, told reporters on Wednesday (28 October).

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Only the final one appears to provide any hope.

The first option is that the virus changes "by some miracle" so that it becomes less lethal.

"Unlikely to happen, but you never know," he said.

The second is to infect up to 70 percent of the population, also known as herd immunity, at the expense of millions of deaths. "I think that is not something we can ethically accept," he said.

The third is long-term lockdowns that push people into poverty.

"And lastly, and that is where there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and that is a vaccine, or vaccines," he said.

Piot was speaking alongside, and via video conference, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen.

He pointed out there are 11 vaccines currently in clinical trials.

"I am quite hopeful that by the end of the year we will know how effective some of these vaccines will be," he said.

But any vaccine will first need to go through extensive testing for safety, involving clinical trials of possibly up to 100,000 people.

The testing is also needed to convince sceptics, he said, noting that some 25 percent of people surveyed refuse to take any future vaccine against the virus.

And there is no guarantee that a vaccine will offer immunity on the long-term, meaning face-masks and social distancing will have to be maintained.

"This is not going to be over until it's over everywhere," he warned.

In a best case scenario, von der Leyen said up to 50 million doses of vaccine could be delivered per month throughout the EU.

So far over one million people throughout Europe has been infected by the virus, which is expected to spike over the next two to three weeks.

Although the average burden of intensive care units in Europe is about a third of its highest point during spring, it too is expected to rise.

Better cooperation among EU states

Piot's comments follow announcements of new measures by the European Commission to help tackle the pandemic.

The EU executive has a coordinating role in the matter. It can only ask EU states to work together.

Along with other measures, it over the summer demanded EU states prepare for a second wave, and increase their testing capacity with the help of a €350m joint-procurement scheme.

But issues like health remain sensitive for national governments, posing problems when it comes both to travel and the movement of goods.

The latest raft of proposals by the commission aims to improve data-sharing when it comes to testing, equipment, travel and vaccination strategies.

"No member state will safely emerge from the crisis until everyone does and that is why you will hear us stress for cooperation, coordination and solidarity," said von der Leyen.

She intends to pass that message onto heads of state and government during an online meeting on Thursday.

She also wants them to share national data with the Sweden-based European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC).

"This will help us to know for example where there is ICU capacity or cross border patient care can be organised when needed," she said.

The commission is also setting up a platform of national science advisors on Covid-19, to align the advice given to the different governments.

And it is mobilising some €100m to purchase rapid tests, which it will then distribute to member states.

But von der Leyen's call for greater cooperation also struck a sober note.

"I think this year's Christmas will be a different Christmas. A lot depends on our behaviour," she said.

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