Covid-19 in Europe: From Fighting the Virus to Living With It

Written by | Wednesday, August 18th, 2021

The battle against Covid-19 is shifting into long-term, low-intensity mode in Europe, as countries including France, Italy and Germany have moved from seeking to end the pandemic to preparing to live with it. Governments are drawing up plans for campaigns of booster shots, mask wearing, frequent testing and limited social-distancing measures to keep the virus in check ahead of the region’s third pandemic winter. They are aided by a public that has proved relatively tolerant of social curbs, since there was never much expectation among the Europeans that the pandemic was over on the ‘Old Continent’, where infections have spiked sporadically through spring and summer. Germany, for example, which never fully lifted pandemic restrictions, said recently that only vaccinated people, those who had recovered from an infection or people with a recent negative Covid-19 test would be able to go to restaurants, hospitals and other indoor venues unless infections fall below a very low level. Masks will remain compulsory in closed spaces and on public transport indefinitely, even for the vaccinated.
In a separate but related development, Europe’s drugs regulator said on Monday (16 August) it was evaluating the use of Roche’s (ROG.S) arthritis drug, Actemra, in hospitalized adults with severe Covid-19, its latest review of a potential coronavirus treatment. Tocilizumab, sold by Roche as Actemra and RoActemra, has shown promise in clinical trials in treating Covid-19, and was approved by US health regulators in June for emergency use in hospitalized Covid-19 patients who needed oxygen. A large trial in February showed that tocilizumab cut the risk of death among patients hospitalised with severe Covid-19, shortened the time to recovery and reduced the need for mechanical ventilation. The European Medicines Agency (EMA) will carry out an accelerated assessment of the drug, including results from four large studies, it said in a statement. The outcome is expected in mid-October.
Meanwhile, Gordon Brown has accused the European Union of adopting a “neocolonial approach” to the supply of Covid-19 vaccines and demanded rich western nations relinquish their stranglehold on pandemic treatments. The former UK prime minister has called on Joe Biden, Boris Johnson, and Mario Draghi to convene a special summit to coincide with next month’s UN general assembly in New York to address Africa’s vaccine deficit. In an opinion piece published by the Guardian, Brown said it was shocking that about 10m single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccines produced at a factory in South Africa were being exported to the EU instead of helping African countries meet their modest targets for pandemic jabs. “Compared to the swift development of the pathbreaking Covid vaccines, getting shots into all the world’s arms should be straightforward,” Brown wrote. “But vaccine nationalism – and Europe’s neocolonial approach to global health – is dividing the world into rich and protected people, who live, and those who are poor, unprotected and at risk of dying.”

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