Countries should be bracing for a second and third wave of coronavirus, WHO expert says as he warns Europe remains ‘very much in the grip’ of the crisis despite reduction in new cases
- Dr Hans Kluge warned that ‘even the best’ health systems can be ‘devastated’
- He said countries should prepare for further waves if vaccine is not yet available
- Europe still accounts for nearly half of infections and nearly two-thirds of deaths
- Here’s how to help people impacted by Covid-19
The WHO’s Europe director has warned that countries need to prepare for a ‘second or third wave’ of coronavirus until a vaccine is developed.
Dr Hans Kluge said Europe remained ‘very much in the grip’ of the pandemic despite a ‘plateau or reduction in new cases’ since most countries went into lockdown.
Kluge warned that ‘Covid-19 is not going away any time soon’ and said public health would need to ‘have a more prominent place in society’ even when it does.
Scientists around the world are racing to develop a vaccine which would turn the tide against the virus, but it is likely to be many months away at least.
Dr Hans Kluge (pictured), the WHO’s European director, has warned that countries will need to prepare for a second or third wave of coronavirus
Speaking at a WHO Europe briefing, Dr Kluge said it was vital for countries to prepare for future outbreaks once the first peak had been reached.
He said: ‘If the first wave is gone, [the key issue is] that we have bought the time to prepare for a second or third wave, particularly if there is no vaccine.
‘The key issue is to be prepared, whether it is for a second wave or another outbreak of another future infectious agent.
‘This will require the collaboration and understanding of everyone, not least with the summer coming, that everyone has to do its share while moving to a new reality where public health has to have a more prominent place in society.’
Parts of Europe are starting to move towards a post-lockdown life, with schools already open in some countries and shops in others.
However, Britain remains under strict lockdown with no expiry date in sight as the death toll continues to mount.
Dr Kluge said there were positive signs Europe was passing the peak of the virus but remained ‘very much in the grip’ of the pandemic.
The continent still accounts for nearly half (46 per cent) of all cases globally, and nearly two-thirds (63 per cent) of all deaths.
He said: ‘We’re now seeing evidence of a plateau or reduction in new cases. We must monitor this development very closely.’
But he said: ‘Covid-19 is not going away any time soon.’
Human vaccine trials began at Oxford University last week, where 32-year-old Elisa Granato (pictured) was one of the people injected
In Britain, pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca is making plans with Oxford University to distribute a vaccine if trials prove successful.
The university’s Jenner Institute began human trials last week, with some results expected by the middle of June.
John Bell, a professor of medicine at Oxford, said ‘we also want to make sure that the rest of the world will be ready to make this vaccine at scale’.
Dozens of vaccines are currently in development, but the WHO cautions that it will probably take 12 to 18 months to find one that works.
Dr Kluge said public health policy would have to remain at the top of the agenda even after the crisis comes to a standstill.
‘One of the things we saw very clearly in different countries is the speed with which even the best health systems can be overwhelmed and devastated,’ he said.
‘So the biggest lesson overall at this stage would be that health really deserves to be at the top of the political agenda.
‘Health is a driver of the economy – what we see now is that without health, there is no economy. Without health, there is no national security.
‘Once we get out of the pandemic, through united efforts, this is a lesson never to be forgotten.’