Coronavirus: Situation in vast majority of EU nations of 'serious concern', says health agency

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By Alice Tidey
Medical staff of the Intensive Care Unit of the Casalpalocco COVID-19 Clinic in the outskirts of Rome tend to patients, Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020.
Medical staff of the Intensive Care Unit of the Casalpalocco COVID-19 Clinic in the outskirts of Rome tend to patients, Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020.   -  Copyright  AP Photo/Domenico Stinellis

The COVID-19 situation in the vast majority of European Union member states is of "serious concern" with high risk to the general population, the European infectious disease agency warned on Friday.

Under the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC)'s current classification system, the epidemiological situation in the 31 countries it monitors — EU, EEA member states and the UK — is described as either stable, of concern, or of serious concern.

Only six nations were on Friday classified as stable while no countries were labelled "of concern". The vast majority were classified as experiencing an epidemiological situation of serious concern due to the increasing rates and/or test positivity standing at above 3 per cent.

"In countries where the epidemiological situation is of serious concern, there is a high risk to the general population, and for vulnerable individuals the COVID-19 epidemiological situation represents a very high risk," it wrote.

According to its latest figures, more than 5.5 million infections have been confirmed across the 31 countries since the beginning of the pandemic. The death toll now stands at nearly 206,000.

The Czech Republic and Belgium have been particularly impacted by the second wave which started sweeping the continent in September. Both countries have 14-day COVID-19 incidence rates of more than 1,000 cases per 100,000 population.

The Czech Republic logged 15,250 new cases on Friday - its highest ever daily increase.

It also recorded 126 deaths overnight, bringing the country's death toll to 1,971.

Fearing the health system could be overwhelmed, army field hospitals have been erected in and around the capital Prague.

The Netherlands has the third-highest rate with 616 cases per 100,000 inhabitants.

The spike in infections has led to a surge in hospital and ICU admissions. The ECDC estimates that the levels of hospital and ICU occupancy across the region are now at about a third of the peak that occurred during the spring.

It also warned that although mortality rates remain lower than earlier in the year, they have started to creep up again and are likely to continue to do so given "the high level of community transmission."

The ECDC called on authorities to urgently "re-motivate people to follow recommendations, by making it clear that there will be a substantial impact on public health, the economy and society if the epidemiological situation continues to deteriorate."

It also called on health care authorities to increase hospital capacity and ensure that adequate supplies of medical equipment and PPE are available.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced on Thursday that a first set of 30 ventilators from the joint RescEU medical reserve are being dispatched to the Czech Republic.

The eastern European country currently has a 14-day COVID-19 deaths rate of 9.2 per 100,000 inhabitants — nearly double the second-highest rate observed in Romania.

The Czech government issued a 30-day state of emergency on September 30 which severely restricts social activity.

Night-time curfews have meanwhile been imposed locally in multiple countries including France, Belgium, Greece and Italy in recent days to halt the spread of the virus.

England and Wales now operate under a multi-tier system with the cities of Liverpool and Manchester under Tier 3 — the highest level of alert — and thus the toughest of restrictions.

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon unveiled a five-tier system on Friday. This came a day after the country's National Clinical Director Jason Leitch told the BBC that "Christmas is not going to be normal" and that large, multi-family gatherings would not take place.

"I'm hopeful that if we can get numbers down to a certain level we may be able to get some form of normality. But people should get their digital Christmas ready," he said.