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4th Mar 2024

WHO on coronavirus in Europe: 'be prepared'

  • Health checks at Milan airport in Italy in Februaryu (Photo: Dipartimento Protezione Civile)

The director of the World Health Organization (WHO) in Europe, Hans Kluge, said on Wednesday (26 February) that Europe must "be prepared" for the coronavirus outbreak - after experts from the same organisation warned that the world is "not ready" for a pandemic.

"We take the virus and the situation [in Italy] very seriously, but we should remember that four-out-of-five have mild symptoms and recover," he added.

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After coronavirus cases rose rapidly in Europe within the last few days, the European Commission urged member states to review their pandemic plans and to inform Brussels about their healthcare capabilities, including their capacities for diagnosis and laboratory testing for the coronavirus outbreak.

"All member states need to inform us about the preparedness plans and how they are planning to implement them," said the commissioner for health Stella Kyriakides, after meeting Italian health minister, Roberto Speranza.

"This outbreak is a test case for existing global emergency response mechanisms as well as for our cooperation capacity within the EU," she added.

"In the EU we are still in the containment phase, but given how quickly the situation can change, our public health system in the EU must be ready to deal with an increased number of coronavirus infections," she also said.

Ensuring real-time information exchange of information and coordinated of measures between member states is essential to have an effective and coherent response, told Kyriakides, who also thanked member states for keeping their borders open.

We consider that closing the borders is an "inefficient" measure, she added.

Italy outbreak spreads

The virus has recently spread to 43 different countries worldwide, including 13 in Europe.

The outbreak of coronavirus in the northern regions of Italy worsened on Wednesday, with more than 50 new cases confirmed, including four children, and 12 deaths registered.

So far, a dozen towns in the northern regions of Lombardy and Veneto are under lockdown, with around 50,000 citizens not allowed to leave.

But the virus has also spread to seven other regions, including Sicily.

The director of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), Andrea Ammon, said that "it is likely to see a similar situation in other countries in Europe".

"We need to be prepared for other scenarios, such as bigger clusters in Italy or Europe," she added.

A joint expert mission of the ECDC and the WHO in Italy was launched on Tuesday to assess the situation, although it is unclear until when it will continue.

The aim is to contribute to better understand how the contagion developed and to support the control and prevention efforts by the Italian authorities.

Also, the team will gather more data regarding the severity of the disease as well as information concerning contexts in which the virus is transmitting more easily, ECDC told EUobserver.

"Coordination between sectors, in the country [Italy] and with other countries [in the EU] is key," warned Ammon.

According to the ECDC, there is a strong overall level of preparedness in the EU and the risk of infection remains low to moderate.

As of 26 February 2020, 81,263 laboratory-confirmed cases of coronavirus have been reported worldwide, as well as 2,770 deaths - most of them in China - and 30,323 recoveries.

Meanwhile, the commissioner for the EU's economy, Valdis Dombrovskis, said on Wednesday that the commission is closely monitoring the impact of the coronavirus on the economy, although the ongoing uncertainty makes it hard to quantify at this stage.

"We see the effect of the coronavirus on different sectors of the economy: reduction in air travel, tourism, and other industrial sectors - both because of falling demand and also because of the disruption of supply chains," he said after the announcement of the economic outlook of member states.

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