EU’s lead agency believes Covid-19’s physical distancing measures will be around for months


The EU’s lead agency managing Europe’s response to Covid-19 has warned it could be “months” before physical distancing measures can be lifted.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) say current estimates suggest that no EU country is close to achieving the necessary “population protection threshold”.

They say this means “sustained transmission of the virus is to be expected” if current interventions are lifted too quickly.

They say: “It is currently too early to start lifting all community and physical distancing measures in the EU and the UK.

“Before considering the lifting of any measures, member states should ensure enhanced population and hospital-based testing and surveillance systems are in place.

“In the absence of a vaccine, physical distancing measures of some kind will, therefore, need to remain in place for at least some months, in order to ensure that demand for healthcare does not exceed availability.”

Their warning about the number of time restrictions may need to be kept in place comes despite the fact that the number of new cases and new deaths reported daily appears to have decreased slightly in some EU countries.

However, they say this trend should be treated with “caution”.

“Many EU countries are currently only testing severe or hospitalized cases, therefore these trends should be interpreted with caution,” they said in their latest bulletin.

There is currently no indication at EU level that the peak of the epidemic has been reached.

As far as de-escalating any physical distancing measures, the ECDC said: “There is, therefore, significant interest in defining a sound approach to de-escalation.

“However, unless the incidence of infections is reduced to a very low level in a given setting, the transmission will continue until a population protection threshold is reached.

“Plans for de-escalation should, therefore, ensure that appropriate capacities and safeguards, based on public health principles underscored by scientific evidence, are in place to mitigate the risk of an overwhelming recurrence of increased transmission and the risk to vulnerable members of the population.

“Considerations for de-escalation should take into account the fact that the reported new infections on any given day reflect the measures that were in place around one week earlier, “The deaths reported on any given day reflect the epidemiological situation and measures in place two to three weeks earlier.”

The ECDC also says the risk of severe disease associated with Covid-19 in the EU and UK is moderate for the general population and very high for populations with defined risk factors associated with elevated risk.

There is also a moderate to “very high” risk of community transmission.

“The risk of increasing community transmission of Covid-19 in the EU and the UK in the coming weeks is moderate if mitigation measures are in place, and very high if insufficient mitigation measures are in place,” they said.

And they warned: “The risk of health and social care system capacity in the EU/EEA and the UK being exceeded in the coming weeks is considered high with mitigation measures in place and very high if insufficient mitigation measures are in place.”

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