EU to abandon emergency phase of COVID pandemic, document says

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BRUSSELS — The European Commission is set to say the EU has entered a new post-emergency phase of the pandemic, in which testing should be targeted and monitoring of COVID-19 cases should be similar to specimen-based influenza surveillance, according to the draft document. seen by Reuters.

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The shift comes as COVID-19-related cases and deaths are gradually decreasing, thanks to the spread of the less virulent Omicron variant and the immunization of more than 70% of the EU population, with half of the population also receiving a booster shot.

“This Communiqué proposes an approach to deal with the pandemic in the coming months, moving from an emergency to a more resilient regime,” the EU draft document says.

The commission did not comment.

The World Health Organization (WHO) is responsible for declaring a pandemic and ending it, a move that has wide-ranging legal implications for a wide variety of sectors, including insurers and vaccine manufacturers. The UN agency said the pandemic is not over.

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The EU document is non-binding and contains clear warnings that “COVID-19 is not going anywhere”, likely with new options, and therefore “vigilance and preparedness remain important.”

A draft document, prepared by Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides and scheduled for adoption on Wednesday, warns that more surges are possible and recommends that EU governments remain vigilant and ready to return to emergency measures if necessary.

However, it also acknowledges that a new phase has begun and that a new approach to monitoring the pandemic is needed.

This means that mass testing, in which people with symptoms and people in contact with them must be tested, has already been canceled in some EU countries, in stark contrast to the policy currently applied in China, where major cities are subject to lockdowns and regular mass testing. after discovery. from a few cases.

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OBSERVATION

The Commission acknowledges this shift, noting that fewer tests may make it difficult to interpret epidemiological data.

This is in line with warnings from WHO chief General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who on Tuesday urged countries to continue monitoring coronavirus infections, saying the world is “blind” to how the virus is spreading due to declining testing rates.

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To remedy this situation, Brussels is calling for the introduction of more sophisticated ways to detect outbreaks.

“Targeted diagnostic testing needs to be introduced,” the draft document says, noting that new testing strategies need to be developed to continue to provide useful indications of epidemiological trends.

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To do this, priority groups for testing should be identified, including those near the outbreaks, people at risk of developing severe COVID-19, as well as medical personnel and others in constant contact with vulnerable populations.

Surveillance of the virus should also be adapted, focusing more on genome sequencing to identify possible new variants and less focus on mass reporting of cases.

“The goal of surveillance should no longer be based on the detection and reporting of all cases, but rather on obtaining reliable estimates of the intensity of transmission in the community, the impact of severe disease, and the effectiveness of the vaccine,” the document says.

It proposes the establishment of a surveillance system similar to that used to monitor seasonal influenza, in which a limited number of selected health care providers collect and share relevant data.

Vaccines are still needed in the fight against COVID-19, the document says, recommending that states consider strategies to boost vaccinations for children ages five and older before the start of the next school year.

The commission warns that immunization is less than 15% among children aged 5 to 9, the youngest age group for which COVID-19 vaccines have been authorized in Europe. This compares with more than 70% of teenagers between the ages of 15 and 17, the document says.

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