Europe in ‘collective denial’ about state of COVID pandemic, says former WHO official


A current view of Milan. (Mairo Cinquetti/SOPA Photos/LightRocket by way of Getty Photos)

BARCELONA, Spain – A report revealed Friday morning by the European Heart for Illness Prevention and Management (ECDC) found that the continued COVID-19 pandemic on the continent was enhancing in comparison with the peaks of latest circumstances and hospitalizations skilled in December.

However consultants who spoke to Yahoo Information painted a a lot much less encouraging image, saying that the ECDC’s “Nation Overview Report” relies on incomplete and inaccurate information from 30 European nations.

“[D]With adjustments in testing methods,” they continued, “and the end-of-year holidays, these numbers are an unlimited underestimate of the true image,” a spokesperson for the World Well being Group advised Yahoo Information in an e-mail WHO works with ECDC to assist them compile their assessments.

Former WHO disaster supervisor Daniel López Acuña, who now resides in Spain, accepts that the brand new ECDC report assessing the state of the pandemic doesn’t present an correct evaluation.

“The report tries to provide an optimistic perspective on the state of the transmission of COVID-19 in Europe, however it contradicts itself when it admits that delays in reporting, not sufficient diagnostic checks and [holiday behavior] could also be hiding the true magnitude of the issue,” mentioned López Acuña to Yahoo Information. He believes that a part of the underreporting, nevertheless, is because of “a collective denial” that has settled throughout Europe. “All of the governments wish to shut this e book and go to the subsequent subject”.

A research assistant at the Wellcome Sanger Institute in England

A analysis assistant on the Wellcome Sanger Institute in England prepares a pattern for genomic sequencing, a observe that’s not pursued by some European nations. (Frank Augstein/AP)

Final yr, many European well being ministries merely stopped reporting vital COVID data. Spain, for instance, now solely tracks the circumstances of residents over 60 years outdated. Germany, Portugal and Poland are amongst eight nations that haven’t reported hospitalizations; Sweden, which noticed the The best variety of COVID sufferers requiring medical care because the starting of 2021declared in April that COVID was not a well being emergency and signed report numbers.

López Acuña factors out that due to the vital information nonetheless lacking from the current ECDC studies, the true panorama of Europe’s COVID is blurred and underestimated. Different well being consultants agree.

“We solely have half the image,” Salvador Macip, director of well being sciences on the Open College of Catalonia, advised Yahoo Information.

Since most well being ministries have stopped routinely testing residents and plenty of nations have deserted genomic sequencing, “we’re going blind,” mentioned Martin McKee, professor of public well being on the London College of Hygiene and Tropical Medication. . These reporting issues got here regardless of assurances from Germany’s high virologist, that introduced in December that the pandemic was lastly over. Days later, studies surfaced of a brand new and extra infectious variant, XBB.1.5, gaining floor in the USA, and China skilled a surge in new circumstances after abandoning strict zero-COVID insurance policies.

Workers wearing protective masks and gowns help a Chinese traveler

Airport employees carrying protecting masks and robes assist a Chinese language traveler at an airport close to Rome. (Filippo Monteforte/AFP by way of Getty Photos)

Protests in December prompted the Chinese language authorities to reopen the nation, permitting residents to journey freely — and circumstances rapidly piled up. Initially of the month, some scientists estimated that China had a million new circumstances of COVID per day; on December 25, the Monetary Occasions reported that about 250 million individuals in China had contracted COVID within the first three weeks of December.

On December 28, Italy has develop into the primary European nation to require testing of passengers disembarking from China, a request that was met with widespread disapproval, together with from the ECDC, which launched a press release saying the company thought of “the screenings and journey measures on vacationers from China unjustified”.

When Italy’s preliminary checks of passengers from China confirmed this virtually half of them examined constructive for the virus, the criticism subsided rapidly, and France (who discovered that a few third of the passengers arrived from China have examined constructive), Spain, the UK and​​​​ different European nations have adopted their very own testing necessities.

On January 4, the European Union advisable that every one 27 member states undertake a short lived requirement that passengers on flights originating in China present proof of a current adverse PCR take a look at earlier than flying and be required to put on a high-quality masks on board. Additionally it is advisable random checks of arriving passengers and airport waste water survey, with constructive outcomes to be sequenced.

Up to now, 10 of the 27 EU nations have adopted the advisable measures, though they continue to be controversial, with some consultants urging that every one aircraft passengers be required to bear preflight checks and {that a} requirement of Masking is totally restored. With the measures solely making use of to flights from China, and with just some nations placing them in place, “it is like placing a gate in a large open discipline,” Macip mentioned.

A passenger wearing a mask hands his passport to an airport worker.

A passenger palms his passport to a employee at Malpensa airport in Milan on December 29, after Italy ordered COVID antigen swabs and virus sequencing for all vacationers coming from China. (Jennifer Lorenzini/Reuters)

“It is not a panacea,” mentioned López Acuña of the insurance policies that stand out in China, “however it can assist deter circumstances getting into Europe.”

With incomplete COVID information coming from China, “It isn’t unreasonable for nations to take precautionary measures to guard their populations, whereas we await extra detailed data,” Dr. Hans Kluge, WHO regional director for Europe, mentioned mentioned in a press convention on Tuesday, including that the WHO urges the measures “to be rooted in science, to be proportionate and non-discriminatory”.

Whereas the preliminary concern was that passengers from China would introduce new variants to Europe, none have been detected.

In a January 3 recommendationThe ECDC has sought to allay fears about new variants of COVID from China.

“The variants circulating in China are already circulating within the EU, and due to this fact don’t problem the immune response of EU/EEA residents,” the company wrote. “Moreover, EU/EEA residents have comparatively excessive ranges of immunization and vaccination, [thus] A rise in circumstances in China shouldn’t be anticipated to affect the epidemiological scenario of COVID-19 within the EU/EEA”.

López Acuña challenges that assertion, indicating that the immunity in Europe is weak, as solely 13% of the European inhabitants obtained the second most potent bivalent booster that additionally targets Omicron variants.

“It’s doable that new will increase in circumstances and hospitalizations as a result of COVID-19 can be noticed within the coming weeks,” an ECDC spokesperson mentioned in an e-mail to Yahoo Information, “nevertheless, will probably be very tough to attribute this to vacationers as The overall enhance within the variety of COVID-19 circumstances and hospitalizations have already been detected “in November and December.

People outside a COVID vaccination center in Turin, Italy.

Individuals arrive to obtain COVID-19 vaccination boosters at a vaccination middle in Turin, Italy, on December 30. (Jessica Pasqualon/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

López Acuña can also be extraordinarily involved that XBB.1.5, the variant referred to as Kraken, which seems to be extra extreme than earlier strains, is displaying resistance to monoclonal antibody therapies and “inflicting a substantial enhance in hospitalization and mortality within the Costa Est. of the USA.”

ECDC’s discover on XBB.1.5 earlier this week struck it as “wishy-washy”. In his Council of January 9 bulletin, the company wrote that the brand new variant has already been present in 16 European nations, however that “the fast progress in the USA doesn’t essentially imply that the variant will develop into dominant within the EU/EEA, since main variations within the circulation of variants between North America and Europe have been noticed a number of occasions through the pandemic. The warning conceded, nevertheless, that “there’s a threat” that the variant might develop into problematic for Europe, “however not within the coming month”.

López Acuña understood that message. “It is critical, however not very critical, and we do not have to fret about it,” he mentioned sarcastically. He added that it isn’t clear precisely how a lot Kraken is already circulating within the EU, since most nations don’t sequence constructive take a look at outcomes. General, I consider that the ECDC “acted very naively” at a vital juncture.

“We face two actual emergencies of a unique nature – certainly one of a variant that’s rather more critical, Kraken,” López Acuña added. “And within the second case, you will have a pandemic dynamic that creates a lot of infections and hospitalizations and deaths. So it isn’t solely Kraken that’s the menace or China that’s the menace. It’s the sum of the 2 that threatens the fragile steadiness that we have been reaching by way of the pandemic. And that’s the reason the combat should proceed.”

A tram in Erfurt, Germany

A tram in Erfurt, Germany, requires clients to have “mouth-nose safety”. (Martin Schutt/press alliance by way of Getty Photos)

Consequently, the circumstances of COVID in Europe are prone to shoot increased, in keeping with López Acuña and Macip. “With extra viruses circulating, we could have extra circumstances in Europe,” Macip mentioned, including that he’s apprehensive in regards to the results on already overwhelmed hospitals. “Whether or not it is a tsunami or a small wave,” he mentioned, relies on a wide range of elements, together with whether or not Europeans take precautions, together with carrying masks – a suggestion the WHO bolstered on Friday.

On Friday afternoon, as in cue, the ECDC launched an up to date menace evaluation. “In keeping with the present ECDC evaluation,” he mentioned, “there’s a average chance that XBB.1.5 will develop into dominant within the EU/EEA and trigger a considerable enhance within the variety of COVID-19 circumstances within the subsequent one to 2 months “. In an accompanying press launch the company wrote, “In view of this, the ECDC recommends finishing up applicable checks and sequences, growing the uptake of the COVID-19 vaccination, and strengthening an infection prevention and management measures. Non-pharmaceutical interventions reminiscent of staying at dwelling when sick, teleworking, good air flow of indoor areas and the suitable use of face masks must also be thought of.


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