The European Commission has adopted a “staying safe from COVID-19 during winter” strategy for managing the pandemic over the coming winter months.
The “staying safe from COVID-19 during winter” strategy was announced following concerns of increased transmission of the virus due to specific circumstances such as a rise of indoor gatherings over winter.
It recommends that people continue to be cautious during the following period and into 2021. Once the roll out of safe and effective vaccines has occurred, the Commission will provide additional advice on the gradual lifting of containment measures.
A coordinated EU-wide approach is vital to provide clear guidance to people and avoid a resurgence of the virus. Any relaxation of measures should consider the evolution of the epidemiological situation and the capacity for testing, contact tracing and treating patients.
Margaritis Schinas , Vice-President for Promoting the European Way of Life, said: “In these extremely difficult times, guidance to Member States to promote a common approach to the winter season and in particular on how to manage the end of the year period, is of vital importance. We need to curtail future outbreaks of infection in the EU. It is only through such a sustained management of the pandemic, that we will avoid new lockdowns and severe restrictions and overcome together.”
Stella Kyriakides, Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, added: “Every 17 seconds a person loses their life due to COVID-19 in Europe. The situation may be stabilising, but it remains delicate. Like everything else this year, end of the year festivities will be different. We cannot jeopardise the efforts made by us all in the recent weeks and months. This year, saving lives must come before celebrations. But with vaccines on the horizon, there is also hope. All Member States must now be ready to start vaccination campaigns and roll out vaccines as quickly as possible once a safe and effective vaccine is available.”
Recommended measures to control COVID-19 over winter
The “staying safe from COVID-19 during winter” strategy suggests actions to keep the pandemic under control until vaccines are widely available. It focuses on:
- Physical distancing and limiting social contacts:
This is key for the winter months including the holiday period. Measures should be targeted and based on the local epidemiological situation.
- Testing and contact tracing:
This is essential for detecting clusters and breaking transmission. Most Member States now have national contact tracing apps that should be utilised.
- Safe travel:
A coordinated approach is crucial as increased travel over the holiday season is possible. Transport infrastructure must be prepared and quarantine requirements, which may take place when the epidemiological situation in the region of origin is worse than the destination, clearly communicated.
- Healthcare capacity and personnel:
Business continuity plans for healthcare settings should be put in place to make sure COVID-19 outbreaks can be managed, and access to other treatments maintained.
- Pandemic fatigue and mental health:
Member States should follow the World Health Organization European Region’s guidance on reinvigorating public support to address pandemic fatigue. Psychosocial support must also be increased.
- National vaccination strategies:
The Commission stands ready to support Member States where necessary in the deployment of vaccines as per their deployment and vaccination plans. A common EU approach to vaccination certificates is likely to reinforce the public health response in Member States and the trust of citizens in the vaccination effort.
EU wide efforts to mitigate the pandemic must be continued until there is a safe and effective vaccine available and the majority of the population is immunised.
The European Commission will present further recommendations in early 2021.