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EU ends emergency phase of coronavirus pandemic – POLITICO

The EU declared an end to the emergency phase of the coronavirus pandemic on Wednesday as pressures on hospitals ease and countries drop restrictions.

Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides said that while it “is clear that the pandemic is still with us”, it was time to get out of crisis mode and take a new approach to dealing with COVID-19 .

In more than two years, the pandemic has claimed more than a million lives in the EU, straining health systems, forcing governments to impose travel restrictions and galvanizing a massive research and logistics effort to vaccinate people.

Between 60 and 80% of the EU population have caught COVID-19 at some point, the health commissioner said in a speech.

In a bid to get things back to normal, new guidance from the Commission calls on member countries to integrate their coronavirus testing programs into broader respiratory disease surveillance. Testing should not aim to capture “all cases” but to obtain reliable estimates. Surveillance for new variants will be reinforced, with the help of the EU, and health capacity should also be prepared in the event of a resurgence of the virus.

Several EU member countries have already begun to consider COVID-19 “endemic”, with Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez saying in January that it should be treated like the flu. Sweden scrapped its mass testing program and lifted restrictions in February, while Italy ended its state of emergency on March 31.

Although data shows that coronavirus cases have been trending down across the bloc since February, after a surge caused by the spread of the milder variant of Omicron, concerns persist about the possible emergence of a new more virulent strain that could fuel another wave of infection. “The risk that the situation could change quickly with a new variant is real,” Kyriakides said.

While more than two-thirds of the adult population in the EU have been vaccinated against COVID, low vaccination rates in some member countries mean their populations remain vulnerable. In Malta, around 70% of the population received a booster injection, compared to only 10% in Bulgaria.

In his speech, Kyriakides previewed a “next generation vaccine strategy” that aims to develop variant-resistant and long-lasting vaccines.

And, looking long-term, the Commission’s policy paper outlined a number of different ways the pandemic could evolve. At best, COVID-19 becomes “systematically manageable”. But the bleaker outlook includes unmanageable winters, in which hospitals are regularly overwhelmed, or even the emergence of a new pandemic strain that would lead to the return of tough restrictions.


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