Coronavirus takes toll across Europe

Despite urgent precautions undertaken, pandemic seems inevitable

Photo: EPA Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides (R) and Crisis Management Commissioner Janez Lenarcic (L) at a press briefing, explaining the latest developments of the coronavirus outbreak in Europe.

Governments across the globe are battling the clock to contain the fast spreading coronavirus outbreak, but despite all urgent measures being undertaken, they most probably would not be able to stop а global pandemic. So far the World Health Organisation has avoided using the word pandemic to describe this outbreak, despite the fact that there are already cases on all continents and the number of people catching the virus rises fast.

In Europe, cases - infected and deaths - are on a steep rise, with new counties confirming the presence of Covid-19 within their territories every other day. With Italy at the epicentre of the outbreak, the EU Members States seek to coordinate their responses in order to prevent panic, which is anyway affecting the societies. At the same time, the European Commission said it was working around the clock to support countries and strengthen international efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

“From day one, protecting our citizens from this virus and supporting Member States and the global efforts to contain its spread have been the EU's main priorities,” Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides said. “This is a situation of concern but we must not give in to panic. All Member States need to inform us about their preparedness plans and how they propose to implement them. Like all viruses, Covid-19 has shown its ability to cross borders and continents. This outbreak is a test case for existing global emergency response mechanisms as well as for our cooperation within the EU,” she added.

The Commission has requested all Member States to review their pandemic plans as well as health care capacities, including capacity for diagnosing, laboratory testing and procedures for contact tracing. Despite the outbreak, the EU so far is not yet considering suspending travel within the border-free Schengen area, but is preparing contingency plans, Crisis Management Commissioner Janez Lenarcic pointed out.

Until last Thursday, besides 12 in Italy, there were coronavirus victims in France as well. New cases were recorded in Austria, Croatia, Germany, Spain and Switzerland, while Estonia, Greece, North Macedonia and Denmark reported first cases. French President Emmanuel Macron called the outbreak a “crisis, an epidemic that is on the way”.

And with the rapid spread of the virus in Iran, Italy, South Korea and elsewhere, for the first time new infections around the world on Thursday surpassed those in mainland China, where the flu-like disease emerged two months ago but is on the decline after an aggressive containment campaign. Health bodies warn that there is no cure for the virus that can cause pneumonia, and a vaccine may take up to 18 months to develop.

The widening outbreak threatens to seriously disrupt the global economy, just as it was steadying itself against headwinds from the US-China trade dispute. Amid concerns that global output could decline for the first time since the global financial crisis a little more than a decade ago, stock markets sank at the beginning of last week, and were battling to change the direction all week long. Oil went down, while gold rose in yet another sign of coming economic disturbances.

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