The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) today warned in its latest COVID-19 risk assessment that cases are rapidly increasing in all of Europe, following rises that look similar to those of China’s Hubei province and Italy and that the risk of overwhelmed health systems is high.

The report comes as cases in Western Europe soar and activity accelerates elsewhere, lifting the overall global total to 460,250 cases in 172 countries, according to the Johns Hopkins online dashboard. Three of the five worst-hit countries are in Europe: Italy, Spain, and Germany. Also, the global number of confirmed deaths passed 20,000 today, with 20,857 reported so far.

WHO advice for locked-down countries

At a media telebriefing today, World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, said the many countries that are on lockdown now have a second window of opportunity to suppress the disease.

“We understand that these countries are now trying to assess when and how they will be able to ease these measures,” he said. “The answer depends on what countries do while these population-wide measures are in place.”

On their own, the measures don’t extinguish epidemics, but they reduce pressure on the health system and allow other more precise measures to stop transmission, Tedros said. He urged countries on lockdown to take six key steps: expand and train the public health workforce, implement systems to find every case, ramp up testing, identify facilities to treat patients, develop a quarantine plan, and refocus the entire government on suppressing and controlling the pandemic coronavirus.

“These measures are the best way to suppress and stop transmission, so that when restrictions are lifted, the virus doesn’t resurge, Tedros said. “The last thing any country needs is to open schools and businesses, only to be forced to close them again because of a resurgence.”

ECDC warns of Italian-type trajectories

The ECDC, in its seventh COVID-19 assessment, said that, since Mar 12, all European countries have now reported cases and that 63% of the global cases have been in Europe. With current testing capacity and if nations do not enact mitigation strategies, Europe could see by the middle of April a scenario similar to what China experienced in Hubei province at the beginning of the outbrak.