Europeans are at a fork in the road in the fight against COVID-19 and it is in the hands of individuals and communities if we take the road towards a new normal, or one that sends us back to restrictions on our movement and social interactions.
“Mistrust, resistance to measures, a disregard for the behavioural changes we have all made to limit COVID-19, will send us down the road none of us want to take,” warned Dr Hans Kluge, Director of the European Regional Office of the World Health Organization (WHO).
“Simply put, our behaviour today, will set the course for the pandemic,” Dr Kluge said at a virtual press conference in Copenhagen. “As governments lift restrictions, you, the people become the main actors. It is an individual as well as a collective responsibility. Follow the recommendations of your national authorities, limit social interactions, keep washing your hands, maintain physical distancing and reduce risk to the most vulnerable in our society, the elderly and those with chronic underlying health conditions.”
Dr Kuge said that there was an overall slowing of the pandemic in the European Region which includes former republics of the Soviet Union, but there was still a rise in cases in the eastern part. There are 1.78 million confirmed cases, and 160,000 deaths, accounting for 43% of cases and 56% of deaths globally.
The Russian Federation, the United Kingdom and Spain remain among the 10 countries around the world reporting the most cases in the past 24 hours.
Dr Kluge delivered three messages in his statement.
First he said there is no room for complacency – we have to remain vigilant.
Secondly, authorities need to listen to their publics and adapt accordingly, in real-time.
And thirdly he emphasized that the general public has a role to play to keep COVID-19 at bay.
“Our behavior determines COVID-19 behaviour. It’s up to us now” Dr Kluge said.
“Until a vaccine or treatments are at hand, limiting the virus requires a partnership of people and policy-makers – a social contract that extends beyond the control of any government official or leader. Vigilance is an all-of-society responsibility”
Dr Kluge expressed worries of “emergency fatigue” which he said threatens the gains we have made against this virus. Reports of distrust in authorities and conspiracy thinking are fueling movements against social and physical distancing, while others are behaving over-cautiously, which continues to limit their social interactions and access to health services, for example.