25th May 2022

EU leaders seek 'exit strategies' as infections slow

  • The glimmer of hope from the latest figures has prompted European leaders to look into possible exit strategies from their national lockdowns (Photo: Markus Meier)

EU leaders have begun to explore possible exit strategies to their national lockdowns - as the latest figures in the worst-hit member states indicate a slowing in the rate of new coronavirus cases and deaths.

Italy, Spain, France and Germany on Monday (6 April) all reported declines in their daily death tolls from the virus, roughly three weeks after lockdowns and restrictive measures entered into force.

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The Spanish health ministry reported on Monday 637 registered coronavirus deaths in previous 24 hours - which marks the fifth consecutive-day decline in deaths since a peak of 950 fatalities recorded on 2 April.

As Spain overtook Italy and became the second worst-affected country worldwide, the Spanish government announced that lockdown measures, which began on March 14, will be extended until 26 April.

Following the north-south split over possible 'coronabonds' last week, Spanish prime minister Pedro Sanchez also called for EU solidarity among member states, in an article published on Sunday in several European newspapers.

Italy, which still has the world's highest-recorded death rate from coronavirus, reported its lowest daily coronavirus death toll for more than two weeks on Sunday - when the country registered 525 fatalities and its third consecutive daily decline in deaths.

"The curve has reached a plateau and begun to descend," said the head of Italy's health institute Istituto Superiore di Sanità (ISS), Silvio Brusaferro, on Sunday.

"If this is confirmed, we need to start thinking about the second phase and keep down the spread of this disease," he added.

Italy was the first European country to go into lockdown on 10 March - a measure that has saved an estimated 30,000 lives, according to ISS.

The quarantine will officially expire on 13 April, but it is expected soon to be extended until the end of the month.

Likewise, France also reported on Sunday the slowing down of both its daily death toll and new cases, although the figures have been disrupted by a massive spike in the number of previously-unreported deaths, especially in nursing homes.

On 2 and 2 April, the French government added to the national totals some 1,416 deaths and 17,827 such additional cases.

Meanwhile, Germany also recorded on Monday its fourth consecutive day with a decline in new confirmed cases - with 3,677 new cases and 92 deaths in the past 24 hours.

The 'Second Phase'

The glimmer of hope from these figures prompted European leaders to look into possible exit strategies to the national lockdowns.

Denmark and Austria announced on Monday the first steps of their exit strategies, aiming to ease lockdown measures and get out of the crisis faster than others.

Spanish lawmakers are expected to discuss this week easing quarantine measures - which are considered the hardest of Europe together with Italy.

"I think that, for instance, it would be possible to start allowing sports very soon. Going out running, individually and in a controlled way, or allowing parents to walk with their children while complying with social distancing measures," the president of the Spanish Society of Epidemiology, Pere Godoy, told El País.

However, the World Health Organization's director for Europe, Hans Kluge, recently referred to "careful optimism" when speaking about the situation in Spain.

Meanwhile, Italian media on Sunday reported that the government led by Giuseppe Conte was preparing a five-point plan to open businesses gradually, while keeping social distancing measures in place.

Once the lockdown measures are lifted, Italy and Spain are considering to make compulsory the use of masks in certain public spaces - an initiative that Austria has recently imposed in supermarkets and grocery shops.

"Masks are important because they prevent the spread of infections," said the chief of the Italian civil protection service, Angelo Borrelli.

Additionally, massive testing and "contact tracing" are considered essential to exit quarantine measures gradually.

Spain, for instance, wants to use one million testing kits to act as "rapid screening" in hospitals, nursing homes and other essential sectors pursuing a two-fold objective: to acknowledge the real extent of the pandemic and identify the asymptomatic coronavirus patients.

Likewise, national authorities of many EU countries announced that "contact tracing" would also be extended with the use of mobile data and applications.

However, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), it is essential to accurately identify the triggers for the activation, and subsequently for the de-activation, of the range of surveillance systems that have to be established or strengthened, while considering the incubation period and the time taken to report cases.


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