A World Health Organization (WHO) special envoy on COVID-19 predicts a third wave of the pandemic in Europe in early 2021 if governments repeat what he said was a failure to do what was needed to prevent the second wave of infections.
“They missed building up the necessary infrastructure during the summer months, after they brought the first wave under the control,” the WHO’s David Nabarro said in an interview with Swiss newspapers.
“Now we have the second wave. If they don’t build the necessary infrastructure we’ll have a third wave early next year,” said Nabarro, a Briton who campaigned unsuccessfully to become the WHO director-general in 2017.
Europe briefly enjoyed sinking infection rates that are now surging again: Germany and France on Saturday saw cases rise by 33,000 combined, Switzerland and Austria have thousands of cases daily, while Turkey reported a record 5,532 new infections.
Nabarro singled out Switzerland’s move to allow skiing – with masks required in gondolas – as other Alpine nations such as Austria shuttered resorts, saying Switzerland could reach a “very high level of sicknesses and deaths”.
“Once the infection rates sink, and they will sink, then we can be as free as we want,” Nabarro was quoted as saying by the Solothurner Zeitung. “But right now? Should ski resorts open? Under what conditions?”
Nabarro lauded the response of Asian countries such as South Korea, where infections are now relatively low: “People are fully engaged, they take on behaviours that make it difficult for the virus. They keep their distance, wear masks, isolate when they’re sick, wash hands and surfaces. They protect the most endangered groups.”
Nabarro also said Asia did not relax restrictions prematurely.
“You must wait until case numbers are low and stay low,” he said. “Europe’s reaction was incomplete.”
Nabarro’s comments came as British Prime Minister Boris Johnson plans to end an England-wide four-week lockdown as scheduled on December 2.
Johnson is also expected to announce a return to regional restrictions as statistics show coronavirus infections have stabilised.
His office said late Saturday the government plans to return to using a three-tiered system of localised restrictions in England, with areas facing different lockdown measures based on the severity of their outbreaks. More communities are expected to be placed in the two highest virus alert categories, it said.
The prime minister’s office also confirmed plans to begin a nationwide COVID-19 vaccination programme next month – assuming regulators approve a vaccine against the virus – as well as an increase in mass testing in an effort to suppress the virus until vaccines can be rolled out.