EU raises alert level to maximum due to new coronavirus variants
ECDC calls for tightening restrictions and stopping non-essential travel
BrusselsMaximum alert in Europe due to the coronavirus new variants. The European Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (ECDC) has updated its risk report on Thursday due to new variants of the virus detected in the UK, Brazil and South Africa, and placed it at maximum level, calling for tighter containment measures and a halt to non-essential travel. This message came just minutes before the virtual summit between the heads of state and government of the European Union, meeting precisely to address this issue. On the table is the possibility of restricting non-essential travel within the European Union, as happened during the first wave of the pandemic.
The ECDC foresees that due to the increase in infections, the pressure on health systems will also rise and therefore calls on the authorities to prepare for this and take the necessary measures and tighten up the containment guidelines: "In view of the evidence of higher transmissibility of the new variants, the authorities should be prepared to apply even stricter measures". In fact, several European countries have tightened restrictions in recent weeks. The Netherlands and Belgium are already openly considering closing borders and have tightened restrictions, Portugal has returned to confinement, Germany has extended it and France has advanced the curfew. In Spain, too, several regions are tightening or extending restrictions.
The ECDC advises against non-essential travel and stresses the need to take quarantine measures if movement is required, which it did not consider necessary during the first and second waves, when the European agency was more in favour of prioritising tests and maintaining freedom of movement within the Schengen area. This time, however, the gravity of the situation in the face of the expansion of new variants of the coronavirus pushes the situation to the limit. The ECDC now calls on governments to prepare laboratories to increase their testing capacity and also calls on them to increase control, monitoring and diagnostic measures.
All these issues are being discussed right now by the European Union leaders at an online summit where they are looking for ways to accelerate a vaccination process that has started more slowly than expected due to problems in the production but also in governments' logistical preparation. "Governments should accelerate the pace of vaccination of high-risk groups," says the ECDC, which stresses that it is important to prioritise them and even "explore the optimal way to use the limited number of doses".
On the other hand, this Thursday the ECDC has also updated the map of infections in Europe, a map that is permanently red and in which Spain is the EU country where infections have increased the most. Currently the countries with the worst figures (infections per 100,000 inhabitants) are Ireland (1,444), the Czech Republic (1,362), Portugal (1,215), Slovenia (1,132) and Spain (804).