COVID19: We have to take measures to protect those around us

The European Commission’s health spokeswoman has called on EU members states to communicate better and enforce social distancing and hygiene rules to halt a new wave of coronavirus infections. France on Wednesday announced tougher restrictions to curb the Covid-19 spread, as 13,000 new cases were reported in the last 24 hours.

“In some member states, the situation is now even worse than during the peak in March. This is a real cause for concern,” EU health commissioner Stella Kyriakides said on Thursday.

“All member states need to roll out measures immediately and at the right time at the very first sign of potential new outbreaks.”

Europe has now had more than five million coronavirus cases, and several countries have begun reimposing local lockdown rules to head off a return to uncontrolled spread.

The death rate has not returned to the levels seen earlier this year, but cases of new infections are soaring once again in many areas.

In France — more than 13,000 new cases and almost 800 hospital admissions were reported on Thursday alone, prompting the French Health Minister Olivier Veran to order the closure of bars and restaurants in the southern port city of Marseille, now labelled as on “maximum alert” along with the overseas territory of Guadeloupe.

On the second highest “elevated alert”, eight major cities including Paris will see new restrictions, including limitations on public gatherings to 10 people and earlier closing hours for bars.

Spain applies new local lockdown
The Madrid region, the heart of an explosion of infections in Spain, has already locked down roughly 850,000 people and plans to extend the measures on Friday.

On Thursday, Germany reported 2,143 new cases and 19 more deaths, according to the disease control agency Robert Koch Institute.

As a result, Munich — Germany’s third-largest city — has made face masks compulsory in some busy outdoor spaces and is considering a targeted alcohol ban.

Germany also this week added a slew of popular destinations, including Copenhagen, Dublin and the United Arab Emirates, to its list of foreign locations that require travellers to self-isolate or get tested when returning to Germany.

Crisis is not over
“What this means, to be very clear, is that the control measures taken have simply not being effective enough or not being enforced or followed as they should have been,” she said.

“We cannot lower our guard. This crisis is not behind us. Moreover, winter is the time of the year for more respiratory illnesses, including seasonal influenza.”

“Today we’re here to call on everyone to act decisively… it might be our last chance to prevent a repeat of last spring,” she warned.

Kyriakides also said that member state governments would have to fight misinformation about the virus and reach out to young people to head off protests and conspiracy theories.

And she warned they will have to act quickly to prevent a need for a return to generalised lockdowns, which she said would hurt the economy, education and the mental health of the public.

Maintaining strong messaging to promote compliance with key protective behaviours – Risk communication messages should emphasise that the pandemic is far from over, and that the SARS-CoV-2 virus continues to circulate within the community. The overarching messages proposed by ECDC earlier in the pandemic remain valid: ‘This is a marathon, not a sprint’; and ‘We must not drop our guard’. People’s behaviour continues to be the key to controlling the pandemic.

Risk communication for younger people – Reduced compliance by younger people to protective measures is of increasing concern. Communication campaigns specifically targeting young people should ideally be based on insights gained through behavioural research in order to ensure that the messages resonate with and are acceptable to the target population. It is essential that young people see themselves as part of the solution, and that they are actively engaged in strategies to control the pandemic as well as in the recovery effort.

Protecting mental health – While the fall in COVID-19 cases over the summer months and the accompanying lifting of some restrictive measures may have provided respite, the ongoing return to high incidence rates and the consequent potential for a re-imposition of restrictive measures in some countries is likely to lead to renewed stresses. The mental health of people who have had COVID-19 is another issue of concern, with evidence indicating high rates of psychological ill health after physical symptoms have cleared.