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13th Apr 2024

EU's virus-alert agency says more funds needed

The EU's virus-alert agency says more money is needed to improve surveillance of infectious diseases.

The Stockholm-based European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control's (ECDC) budget for 2019 was around €60m.

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On Monday (4 May), its director, Dr Andrea Ammon, told MEPs that a more "electronic and digitalised" European surveillance system was needed.

"That is something that we will look at and that will cost some money," she said, noting EU states would also have to adjust.

The current surveillance system operated by the ECDC is based on digital transfer of reported data from national public health institutes of EU member states, Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Norway. The data is sent to the ECDC's electronic surveillance database, which is used to carry out analysis.

But the ECDC says human input may be an impediment in some cases.

In an email, it explained that there is a need to use "directly electronic patient record databases or other healthcare data sources for automatic surveillance to minimise human effort related to reporting", also known as "eHealth" or "digital health".

In late January, it claimed EU countries had the necessary capacities to prevent and control an outbreak caused by Covid-19.

Over one million people throughout the EU have since been infected and some 130,000 have died including those counted in the UK and Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway.

In some EU states, long-term care facilities, like nursing homes, exceed 50 percent of all the deaths tallied.

Simple measures like stay at home polices and physical distancing have reduced overall transmission rates by some 45 percent when compared to 8th April, noted Dr Ammon.

Bulgaria spikes

She also also singled out Bulgaria, which has 1,632 confirmed cases with 78 deaths as of writing.

"The country where we now still see an increase is Bulgaria and there are four countries where we see no substantial changes in the last 14 days and that is Poland, Romania, Sweden, and the UK. All the others we have really seen a substantial decrease," she said.

When pressed, the ECDC says it has not made an analysis of why Bulgaria is spiking.

But the latest data from John Hopkins University actually shows a drop in cases in the country over the past few days.

Tihomir Bezlov, a researcher at the Centre for the Study of Democracy (CSD) in Sofia, says Bulgaria had in fact doubled its testing capacity two weeks ago.

"When you increase the number of PCR [polymerase chain reaction] tests you change the picture," he said.

He also pointed out that the number of cases in Bulgaria between 27 April and 3 May has decreased.

The country has also had a more relaxed policy towards containment.

Bezlov says factories remained open, although some were forced to shut because of the lack of business.

Bulgaria is also set to allow restaurants with outdoor dining areas to open some two weeks from now.

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