Coronavirus: Second more deadly wave could hit Europe in winter, expert warns

‘This is not a time for celebration, it’s a time for preparation,’ says WHO Europe director

Peter Stubley
Thursday 14 May 2020 17:03 BST
Coronavirus in numbers

Europe should prepare for a deadlier second wave of coronavirus this autumn and winter, a leading World Health Organisation official has warned.

The UK and its continental neighbours “must remain vigilant” despite the fall in the numbers of deaths and infections over recent weeks, said Dr Hans Kluge.

He pointed to clusters of new cases in places where the virus had apparently disappeared – such as Wuhan, where the disease originated, and South Korea.

“I’m very concerned about a double wave,” he told The Daily Telegraph. “In the fall, we could have a second wave of Covid and another one of seasonal flu or measles.”

Dr Kluge, the WHO’s regional director for Europe, urged nations to use the time afforded by the slowing of the pandemic to strengthen public health systems.

This should include building capacity in hospitals, primary care and intensive care units and carrying out comprehensive contact tracing and testing like Singapore, he added.

“Singapore and Japan understood early on that this is not a time for celebration, it’s a time for preparation,” said Dr Kluge.

“That’s what Scandinavian countries are doing – they don’t exclude a second wave. But they hope it will be localised and they can jump on it quickly.”

Dr Kluge said public behaviour would play a key part in “keeping the virus at bay” as many countries begin to relax their lockdown restrictions.

“We are now at a fork in the road – where our actions and individual behaviour determines which path we follow,” he told a press conference on Thursday.

“Emergency fatigue threatens precious gains we have made against this virus. Reports of distrust in authorities and conspiracy thinking are fuelling movements against physical distancing, other people are behaving over-cautiously.

“Our behaviour today will set the course for the pandemic. As governments lift restrictions, you, the people, are the main actors.”

His comments follow a warning from England’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty earlier this month that the virus could quickly slip out of control.

“It is entirely plausible for a second wave to actually be more severe than the first if it is not mitigated,” he said, giving the example of the 1918 flu pandemic when England and Wales saw three major waves of the disease in summer, autumn and winter. The second was by far the deadliest of the three.

Dr Kluge also warned that the slowing of the outbreak in the UK and elsewhere did not mean the pandemic was coming to an end, as the virus centre in Europe had shifted to the eastern nations of Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan.

“Some countries are saying ‘we’re not like Italy’ and then two weeks later, boom!” he added. “We have to be very, very careful.”

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