ECDC urges action to control coronavirus ahead of year-end holidays

Governments must tighten health measures to prevent a further winter surge in coronavirus cases driven by social mingling over the year-end holidays, the EU’s infectious disease agency said Wednesday.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) warned that, if no action is taken, December and January could see a jump in the load on health systems due to the coronavirus. Europe has seen growth in both cases and hospitalizations in the past two months, with the increase most marked in Eastern Europe as well as Germany and Austria.

“The current average level of vaccine uptake in the EU/EEA will be insufficient to limit the burden of COVID-19 cases and hospitalisations over the winter months,” the ECDC said in a report.

If public health measures succeed in achieving a “high contact reduction,” then the burden created by the virus would be manageable by the end of December and beginning of January.

Measures recommended by the ECDC include limiting participants at year-end social events and celebrations, as well promoting greater mask wearing, working from home, reducing the load of public transport and ensuring adequate ventilation.

The disease control agency advised that the situation varied between countries with low and medium vaccination rates, which includes most of Europe, and those that have vaccinated over 80 percent of their population — namely Spain, Malta and Portugal. The most vaccinated countries can continue with their current public health measures, though they too might see increases around the holidays.

Booster doses can also help protect the population and slow the spread of disease, the ECDC said, pointing to the example of Israel and the U.K.. Adults over the age of 40, and who had their last shot at least 6 months ago, should be prioritized.

The report comes ahead of planned new recommendations by the European Commission on travel within, and from outside, the bloc. EU officials said that an update was expected today, but was put on hold to wait for the ECDC’s assessment of the epidemiological situation.

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