The storm clouds of the COVID-19 pandemic continue to hang heavily over Europe, the World Health Organization’s Regional Director for Europe, Dr Hans Kluge, warned on Thursday (April 16).
Case numbers across the region, spanning 53 countries, are continuing to climb. In the past ten days, the number of cases reported in Europe has nearly doubled to close to one million, and over 84,000 people have lost their lives to the virus in the region, Kluge announced. Of the total global burden, 50% of cases are in this region.
“We remain in the eye of the storm… Now more than ever I call for solidarity between countries. It is time to step up and display both responsive and responsible leadership to steer us through this storm,” Kluge told a virtual press briefing, adding that the next few weeks will be critical for Europe.
Of the 10 countries in the region with the highest number of cases, there have been optimistic signs in terms of declining numbers in Spain, Italy, Germany, France and Switzerland in recent weeks. But small positive signals have been tempered by sustained or increased levels of incidents in other countries, such as the United Kingdom.
“COVID-19 is unforgiving and has shown the ability to overwhelm even the strongest of our health systems in Europe quickly…. It is imperative that we do not let down our guard,” Kluge said.
WHO is calling on governments and health authorities to consider a safe transition through a gradual shift in measures. It is urging that any steps to ease restrictions ensure that:
- Evidence shows the COVID-19 transmission is controlled public health and health system capacities, including hospitals, are in place to identify, isolate, test, trace contacts and quarantine them.
- Risks are minimised in highly vulnerable settings, particularly in elderly care homes, mental health facilities and for people residing in crowded places.
- Workplace preventive measures are established, with physical distancing, hand washing facilities and respiratory etiquette in place.
- Importation risks can be managed.
- Communities have a voice and are engaged in the transition.
Kluge urged countries to rethink before easing restrictions if they cannot ensure the above criteria.
“As we consider transition, we must acknowledge there are no quick wins. Complexity and uncertainty lie ahead. There is no fast track back to normal,” he said.
Kluge also paid tribute to the support shown to WHO from across the world after the United States announced it was halting funding for the UN health agency, pending a review of its response to the initial outbreak.
“We have been overwhelmed by the support of European countries and the people of Europe and all over the world to the mission of WHO. Some (financial) commitments have come in, but for the time being, we are in the midst of the crisis, so we are focused on saving lives,” he said.