Dr. Andrea Ammon, director of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), based in Sweden, which advises governments in the EU - including France and the UK - on disease control, made the statement in an interview with UK newspaper The Guardian this week.
The comments come as many EU nations begin to relax the rules on confinement and lockdown.
Virus still circulating and ‘not over’
Dr. Ammon said: “The virus is around us, circulating much more than in January and February...I don’t want to draw a doomsday picture but I think we have to be realistic. That now is not the time to completely relax.”
She said that population immunity across Europe was “not all that exciting”, and ranged from just 2-14%, leaving “85-90% of the population susceptible”.
According to the official counts, France has the third-highest level of deaths in Europe at 28,022, behind the UK (35,341) and Italy (32,169).
The ECDC said that Europe had “passed the peak” of infections by May 2 (except in Poland), but warned that this did not mean the situation was safe.
She said: “Especially now when it is clear [infections] are going down, people think it is over. Which it isn’t...it definitely isn’t.”
Long battle will see holidays restricted
Dr. Ammon said that it is likely the world will be dealing with SARS-Cov-2 - which causes Covid-19 - for a long time.
She said: “I don’t know whether it’s forever but I don’t think it will go away very quickly. It seems to be very well adapted to humans.”
She warned that many will be disappointed and will not be able to book their usual holidays, and suggested that one of the reasons that the virus had spread so quickly in Europe was because people had been travelling to and from ski breaks in February and March.
She said: “Because at that time we saw new cases all over Europe [and] actually [they] had been in the skiing places in the Alps, in Italy, Austria. I mean this is a crowded place, the ski resorts, and then you have these cabins that you go up the mountain and these are really crammed.
“It is just perfect for such a virus. I am pretty sure that this contributed to the spread in Europe.”
On the subject of summer holidays, she said: “What we are saying is that they should be prepared that even if there are some holidays and they go somewhere, it will not be comparable to what they had last year.
“At this stage we cannot say you can go out there, wash your hands and everything is fine. You have to keep your distance. These measures have to be in place.”
She warned that it was not only the elderly and vulnerable who are at risk, and that younger, healthy people are too.
She said: “People who are perfectly healthy are also getting severe illness, and they die. Knowing what we have seen in Europe, with approximately 10% of the population [infected] there is not, for me, an option to let this go.
“If the other 90% were affected as well, I think we don’t want to think of this.”
The comments come as France continues its deconfinement plan.
Most shops are open - with restrictions - and some leisure sites and outdoors open spaces have also re-opened.
However, authorities still retain the power to re-close areas if they see fit.
This happened in northern France this week, with local authorities closing beaches in the department of Morbihan due to “unacceptable behaviour” and people failing to respect physical distancing rules (staying at least 1-2 metres away from other people not in your household).
Similarly, in Paris, police dispersed crowds from the lawns in front of Les Invalides, after hundreds of residents took advantage of the good weather to sit on the grass, making physical distancing impossible.
It was fun while it lasted. Paris police politely disperse the crowd; crowd politely complies. But there’s no way a return to lockdown mode is going to work pic.twitter.com/7ngI9J8BsY— Lionel Laurent (@LionelRALaurent) May 20, 2020
The ECDC comments also come less than a week before the French government is set to announce whether the health situation will allow it to enact the second phase of deconfinement, including whether to allow cafes and restaurants to reopen by July.
Previous French studies have suggested that a “second wave” of the virus would be inevitable in France (and beyond), and that it would take “weeks or months” to know if deconfinement had been a “success” or not.
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