Europe is ‘paying a high price’ after relaxing COVID rules too quickly, top EU adviser warns

James Morris
·Senior news reporter, Yahoo News UK
·3 min read
Customers sit at tables socially distanced from each other at the outdoor terrace of a bar, operating at reduced capacity in Plaza Mayor  to open after 9 weeks of severe lockdown by Covid-19 on May 26, 2020 in Madrid, Spain. The regions of Madrid as well as the metropolitan area of Barcelona entered Phase 1, which allows sidewalk cafes to reopen at 50% capacity  (Photo by Oscar Gonzalez/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Customers at a bar in Madrid in May following the lifting of lockdown. The EU's top COVID adviser has said European countries reopened too quickly. (Oscar Gonzalez/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
  • European countries ‘paying a high price’ for coming out of lockdowns too quickly, EU’s top COVID adviser says

  • Peter Piot warns public health must be ‘fixed’ before economies fully restart

  • Europe has been badly hit in second wave of pandemic, with infections and deaths rapidly increasing

  • Visit the Yahoo homepage for more stories

A top EU coronavirus adviser has said Europe is now “paying a high price” after coming out of lockdown too quickly.

Peter Piot, a renowned virologist who is the special COVID-19 adviser to European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, said too many measures were relaxed after the first wave of the pandemic.

Infections on the continent are once again increasing rapidly in the second wave, with a number of countries having posted record daily case numbers this month.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Tuesday that Europe’s daily COVID death toll had risen by nearly 40% compared with the previous week.

Peter Piot addressing the European Commission's COVID press conference on Wednesday. (European Commission/YouTube)
Peter Piot addressing the European Commission's COVID press conference on Wednesday. (European Commission/YouTube)

At a European Commission press conference on Wednesday addressing the EU’s response to COVID, Piot said: “The resurgence that we are seeing now, after the initial successes over the summer, shows how fragile these gains are.

“We kind of relaxed too much the measures of our behaviour and we are paying a high price.”

Citing recent Financial Times analysis suggesting countries with the highest COVID mortality rates have also suffered the worst economic damage, he said: “It’s not about public health versus the economy.

“We really need to fix the health issue in order to make sure the economy can restart, and can thrive.”

He said that “involving people” when introducing restrictions is “really key” in the long term to avoiding “COVID fatigue”.

Piot’s warning about public health and the economy reflects the dilemma facing Boris Johnson in the UK, where daily COVID deaths reached a five-month high on Tuesday.

Johnson has been facing pressure from scientific advisers for tougher COVID restrictions – at the same time as Tory MPs have demanded to know how lockdowns will be eased.

Read more: Sage member warns 25,000 COVID patients could be in hospital by end of November

Earlier this week, the prime minister was warned by a group of more than 50 backbenchers representing northern constituencies that the pandemic is threatening his election pledge to “level up” the country, as they called for a “roadmap out of lockdown”.

But Prof Wendy Barclay, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), warned that nothing short of the full lockdown seen in March has managed to control the virus.

Meanwhile, fellow Sage member Sir Mark Walport said on Wednesday that the prospect of 25,000 COVID patients in UK hospitals by the end of November is “not unrealistic” given the current number of daily infections. As of Tuesday, there were 9,199 people in hospital with COVID.

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