European governments need to get the balance right when it comes to measures to curb the spread of the COVID-19 virus, with national lockdowns to be employed only as an absolute last resort, MEPs told Euronews on Wednesday.
Dr Hans Kluge, Director of the World Health Organisation (WHO)'s European office told Euronews' Darren McCaffrey at a live Euronews debate on Wednesday that "a lockdown is really a last resort" and that policymakers need to account for "pandemic fatigue".
His view was shared by MEPs Sara Cerdas, Tomislav Sokol, and Cristian-Silviu Busoi.
You can watch the full debate in the video player above.
Cerdas, from Portugal, said governments now have other measures at their disposal to manage COVID-19 outbreaks, while Busoi, from Romania, said that "the balance is right for the moment".
Europe is currently battling a second wave of infections and many member states have once more introduced tougher restrictions. The UK and France now operate under multi-tier systems with measures imposed at the local level depending on each area's epidemiological situation.
Bars and restaurants have meanwhile also been ordered shut in Catalonia, Northern Ireland, and the Netherlands.
"We see that the number of new cases daily are two to three times higher than the peak in April," Kluge said, "however the average mortality is seven times lower."
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'EU has a big role to play'
Sokol called for "European solutions" to tackle the pandemic and the strain it has put on national healthcare systems. He argued that "things started to improve" when the EU stepped in with its own measures.
"Europe has done a lot. Of course, it's never optimal, it's never perfect," he went on, emphasising that "the EU has a big role to play."
A poll conducted for Euronews by Redfield and Wilton Strategies found that a majority of German and Italian respondents — 73 per cent and 60 per cent respectively — think the EU is not united in its strategy to combat the virus while 53 per cent of French respondents thought that it was.
Most respondents in these three countries, plus the UK, believed that the worst is yet to come.
"From the patients' point of view, I think that, indeed, Europe has managed to advance quite a bit in the past few months in the way we look at a health union in Europe," Michele Calabro from the European Patients’ Forum (EPF) told Euronews.
The EU Parliament's Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety on Wednesday adopted the so-called EU4Health programme, which could see the bloc invest €9.4 billion to make health systems more resilient and ensure they are well prepared to face future threats.
Parliament is expected to vote on the report in mid-November.
Cerdas described it as "the most ambitious health programme yet at the European level."
"It is a programme that is very much tuned in to the public health programmes that can be done at the EU level by all member states, but also regions and cities. This is to prevent disease, promote health and prolong life," she added.
Vaccines: no silver bullet
The WHO's European chief reiterated that a COVID-19 vaccine shouldn't be seen as "a silver bullet" against the disease.
"Ultimately, we have to live with the virus," he went on, urging Europeans to remain united against COVID-19 over the winter period.
"This is not the end of the world, we are close, so let's stick together for a couple months more to get through" and prevent the deaths of the most vulnerable including the elderly, he said.
Asked whether they would get vaccinated if a COVID-19 vaccine was available, 63 per cent of Britons said they would. A majority of Germans and Italians — 57 per cent and 55 per cent respectively — concurred. However, only 37 per cent of French respondents said they would, compared to 39 per cent who said they wouldn't.
Sokol said politicians and the media will have a role to play in encouraging vaccinations, lambasting political groups "who are basing their whole political strategies on spreading fake news" regarding vaccination.
"It's quite understandable that there is some hesitancy in a new vaccine," Cerdas said, but admitted that "there is no perfect vaccine".
"Scientists, provide them with a platform, to explain to citizens what are the scientific bases for a vaccine. I don't want my prime minister to go vaccinate. I would want the lead, head scientist of Portugal to tell me to vaccinate with sound, scientific data," she said.