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Europe at a 'tipping point' in COVID-19 pandemic

January 8, 2021.

European countries are at a "tipping point" of the pandemic, Hans Kluge, the World Health Organization's regional director said, as infections rise rapidly and the threat of a mutated version of the virus spreading looms. "We remain in the grip of COVID-19 as cases surge across Europe and we tackle new challenges brought by the mutating virus. This moment represents a tipping point in the course of the pandemic."

Image - empty streets, closed stores and other business are seen across Europe as lockdowns are imposed and re-imposed (Kevan James)

The more transmissible variant has already been detected in 22 countries in the WHO's European region, he said, emphasising that countries needed to "intensify" measures to prevent further spread.

"The virus is getting better...and we need to do that too," said Catherine Smallwood, of WHO's emergencies programme, explaining that bringing down transmission should be a priority for countries. Health officials also expect that infections could continue to rise following the holidays, with Kluge stating that there is currently an "incomplete picture of the current epidemiological situation" with lower testing around Christmas and New Year.

How will vaccines impact the pandemic?

Although some countries in Europe, including the UK and EU member states, have begun rolling out vaccines, WHO officials warned not to phase out restrictions.

"The first thing that the vaccination rollout will change will not be transmission but it will be that the most vulnerable people, the ones that we’re vaccinating first, won’t go on to have severe disease and won’t end up in hospital and won’t die," said Smallwood. "That is the first impact, but that’s not safe to assume it will happen on its own. We still need to continue everything we have been doing at least for the next six months."

Kluge said that although "herd immunity" is a "desired endpoint", countries will first have to reduce the virus spread, in part because it is still unknown for how long the vaccines will prevent infection. The vaccinations could also "put pressure" on the virus and officials do not know "how the virus itself will continue to change," continued Smallwood. The European region has already suffered immensely due to the pandemic, with 26 million confirmed cases and more than 580,000 deaths in 2020.

Could COVID-19 be eradicated?

In short, officials do not know, but only one human disease has previously been eradicated: smallpox.

There are "huge differences" between smallpox and COVID-19 which has "emerged, it's spread globally and has adapted very well to circulating among humans and has continued to adapt and will continue to adapt," said Smallwood. She emphasised that there were still many questions about how long the vaccines will produce immunity in humans and how the virus would mutate as more people are vaccinated. "At the moment, we are very much in the thick of it, not only are we in the thick of it, we are probably in the European region in the most acute phase of transmission," she added.

KJM Today Opinion

The first impression one might conceivably take from the comments in the above is that the World Health Organisation is presenting a very gloomy assessment of things. This of course, runs alongside the similar views of Messrs Whitty and Vallance in the UK.

It is sensible and appropriate to err on the side of caution but it also helps to be a little positive as well - and this has been notably absent everywhere. Truthfulness is also somewhat helpful when it comes to carrying the public with the message. Truth is also widely held to have been thin on the ground.

That Covid-19 exists is not doubted by anybody except a small number (who can be, and are, vociferous in their view) but it is entirely understandable that growing numbers of ordinary people are thoroughly fed up with a constant dose of negativity along with conflicting advice, to the point where belief in COVID-19 as a hoax gains traction. The conflict of course comes from an ever-increasing number of suitably-qualified people who cast their own doubts on claims such as those made above regarding 'cases' and especially the numbers dying purely from COVID-19 and nothing else.

What the WHO appear to be saying is that the freedoms previously taken for granted are now at a near-permanent end - a sublime, or even not so subliminal, message being pushed by the UK government along with others the world over. There remains, publicly at least within the UK, an aim to remove COVID-19 entirely. But this cannot be done, as is accurately pointed out in the article above. Perhaps one day it might be, but what happens in the meantime?

Is anybody really serious in expected the great mass of ordinary people to simply give up living? To forgo working properly and leading rewarding socially-interactive lives? To see business and companies built up over years simply smashed into nothing?

We have long said that a vaccine for COVID-19 is not the silver bullet it has been made out to be, either in the UK or elsewhere. And it is truly remarkable (and just plain odd) that those who have been dealing with viruses for decades should be apparently so surprised that COVID-19 has evolved (or mutated if you prefer...the word has a more dramatic ring to it) when every other virus in history has done so.

Whatever the ins and outs, one fact has emerged; a small number of people are adversely affected by COVID-19. Those that are need our help and support. But we can only give that if the rights and freedoms of the majority are respected and not abused by incoherent and ever-changing rules imposed by power-hungry governments - even elected ones.


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