European Centre for Disease Control calls for more lockdowns as new variants become more virulent

The European agency urges caution in spring to avoid a "significant increase" in infections and deaths

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Control of Mossos to the junction of the Trinity by the perimeter confinement

BrusselsBeware of being overconfident this spring. This is the assertive message coming this Monday from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) in its latest report on the risk situation. The European agency declared maximum alert in January for new variants of the coronavirus and has not downgraded the level of risk despite the fact that the vaccination campaign is in progress. "If containment measures are not continued or even strengthened, a significant increase in infections and deaths is expected in the coming months," said the head of the European agency, Andrea Ammon, in a statement.

The report focuses particularly on the spread of the mutations detected in the United Kingdom, South Africa and Brazil. "The proportion of cases of the UK variant has increased over the past few weeks and is now very high in some European countries, indicating that transmission continues in many, if not all, European countries," it notes. For example, in recent weeks 27% of infections in Denmark correspond to this variant, 13% in France, 75% in Ireland and 45% in Portugal. In Spain, the incidence varies greatly depending on the regions, with proportions ranging from 0.4% to 53%. The other two mutations have so far been detected very occasionally in countries such as Belgium, France, Spain and Italy, but the ECDC is on alert because of their virulence and the possibility that the vaccines that have taken a year to develop and distribute may not be effective, as some studies already indicate

The European agency is particularly concerned about "pandemic fatigue" that has erupted in the form of anti-confinement protests in several parts of Europe, such as the Netherlands. "It indicates that some parts of the population have reached their limit of tolerance when it comes to complying with the measures," the ECDC says. This has not been helped by the "high expectations" placed on a vaccination campaign that has got off to a bad start in Europe have not been met, as admitted the President of the European Commission herself. For this reason, she asks governments to manage the population's demotivation urgently and, above all, to "manage expectations correctly" in view of the possibilities of easing restrictions with the arrival of spring.

The fear of this European body is that the expansion and increased virulence of new variants are stronger than the immunisation capacity of vaccines and rising temperatures. "Although vaccination will mitigate the effect of the new variants, and transmission can potentially be reduced during the summer months, premature easing of measures will lead to a rapid increase in incidence, severe cases and mortality," the report says, which does not exclude the possibility that, in addition, there will be new problems in the distribution and administration of vaccines.

For all these reasons, the ECDC openly calls not to lift the restrictions, but to tighten them, and reiterates the need to avoid non-essential travel. To stop the spread of new variants, it recommends that in cases where there is mobility, quarantines of 14 days should be imposed on travellers in addition to pre- or on-arrival testing. In all EU countries except Romania and Slovenia, a PCR test is mandatory before entering the country or hours before arrival, and quarantines are also applied in a large majority of countries.

The economic drain

However, the European economies are suffering strongly from all these measures of confinement that the ECDC is asking to extend, and the expectation of the people who are becoming unemployed or the companies that are going bankrupt is to be able to start to reopen in the second half of the year. In countries like Greece, Spain or Italy mobility is key in the summer season because their economies are highly dependent on tourism

That is why the Greek government suggested the option of creating a vaccination passport to facilitate travel for those who have already received the vaccine. The debate is underway but the European institutions, the World Health Organization and the ECDC itself set clear limits: it has to be a medical certificate informing about the type of vaccine and the doses administered, but not a passport. It is not yet possible to guarantee that an immunised person will not transmit the virus.