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As Covid-19 cases surge in Europe, officials warn of a ‘twindemic’

Health officials issue warning as Covid cases surge with flu season approaching

LONDON: A surge in Covid-19 cases in Europe risks becoming a deadly double epidemic with the flu, EU health officials warned yesterday, as they urged Europeans and their governments not to let their guard down.

"It is abundantly clear that this crisis is not behind us. We are at a decisive moment," the EU's commissioner for health Stella Kyriakides told a media briefing.

With winter approaching in the region, she warned of the risk of a potentially lethal "twindemic of Covid-19 and the flu" and urged governments to encourage people to get seasonal flu vaccines and adhere to social distancing measures to reduce transmission of the novel coronavirus.

"This might be our last chance to prevent a repeat of last spring," Ms Kyriakides said.

Adults at high risk from flu are also most at risk from Covid-19. Research by scientists at Public Health England released this week suggested the risk of death more than doubled for people who tested positive for both flu and Covid-19, compared with those with Covid-19 alone.

Seasonal flu viruses cause between four and 50 million infections each year across the European region - depending on whether the region experiences a severe or relatively mild flu season - and an estimated 15,000 to 70,000 Europeans die each year of causes linked to flu.

There have been at least 4.6 millioninfections and 217,000 deaths caused by the coronavirus reported in Europe so far.

Ms Kyriakides and Ms Andrea Ammon, director of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, which monitors disease across the region, said there had been a worrying increase in cases since last month, with some countries already seeing higher numbers than during the March peak.

"This can partly be explained by improved testing strategies," Ms Ammon said.

"However, several countries appear to be now progressing again from limited local transmission towards sustained community transmission.

"The pandemic is far from over and we must not drop our guard."

Ms Kyriakides warned that some areas had clearly begun to lift restrictions too soon.

"What this means, to be very clear, is that the control measures taken have simply not been effective enough or are not being enforced or followed as they should be," she said.

FRESH PLANS

In Britain, Finance Minister Rishi Sunak announced yesterday fresh plans to help the pandemic-ravaged economy with a new jobs support scheme to help keep people employed on shorter hours, but warned he could not save every business or role.

Under the new programme, support will be available only to workers whose employers keep them on at least a third of their normal hours.

For unworked hours, government and the employer will each pay staff at a third of their normal rate, with a maximum contribution of 698 pounds (S$1,225) a month.

The pandemic has killed nearly 42,000 people in Britain, the worst death toll in Europe.

Meanwhile, Britain is planning to host clinical trials where volunteers are deliberately infected with the coronavirus to test the effectiveness of vaccine candidates, the Financial Times reported on Wednesday, citing people involved in the project. - REUTERS, AFP

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