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EAPM: There’s no ‘pandemic fatigue’ with the Alliance, and the newsletter is available!

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Good afternoon, health colleagues, and welcome to the last European Alliance for Personalised Medicine (EAPM) update of October. We hope you are all looking forward to the best Hallowe’en you can enjoy under present circumstances, so on with the news, writes EAPM Executive Director Denis Horgan.

Newsletter, and no EAPM pandemic fatigue

As you will see from the update below, frustration and anxiety about coronavirus restrictions is being referred to as ‘pandemic fatigue’ - there is no such fatigue on the part of EAPM, as you will see from our ongoing work which is outlined in our newsletter, available here, as well as our upcoming work on the EU Beating Cancer Plan and the EU Health Data Space, as well as our engagement with the institutions.

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EU to fund transfer of COVID-19 patients between countries

The European Union will finance the transfer of patients across borders within the bloc to prevent hospitals from getting overwhelmed as COVID-19 infections and hospitalisations spike in the continent. 

After a video conference of EU leaders to discuss the health crisis on Thursday (29 October), Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the EU executive had made available €220 million ($260m) to move COVID-19 patients across borders. “The spread of the virus will overwhelm our healthcare systems if we do not act urgently,” she said. 

At the meeting, leaders agreed to better co-ordinate efforts to battle the virus as infections in Europe exceeded 10 million, making the continent again the epicentre of the pandemic. EU countries want to avoid divisions which dogged the 27-nation bloc at the beginning of the pandemic, when nations vied with each other to buy scarce medical equipment.

EPSCO unites

Following Thursday’s meeting, health ministers are meeting today (30 October) under increasingly dramatic and pressurized circumstances, as the spread of the coronavirus encounters growing resistance to government measures in Italy and Germany. 

EAPM will be closely following the work and outcomes of the EPSCO council, as well issues relating to key policy areas, as health ministers discuss how better to co-ordinate as countries return to one form or another of lockdown. 

On Thursday, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced a package of measures to help, which ranged from co-ordination on testing and a Europe-wide passenger locator form as well as the expansion of green lanes.

Pandemic fatigue

It is perhaps inevitable that after nearly eight months of restrictions and lockdowns, with people’s lives globally being forced to change in order to fight the pandemic, that frustrations and fatigue with the status quo will come to the fore. In recent weeks, many countries have been reporting an increase in ‘pandemic fatigue’ – people are feeling demotivated about following recommended behaviours to protect themselves and others from the virus. 

Finding effective ways to tackle this fatigue and reinvigorate public vigilance is a growing challenge as the crisis continues. Pandemic fatigue evolves gradually over time and is affected by the cultural, social, structural and legislative environment. 

High-level public health experts from more than 30 countries and many partner organizations from the World Health Organization (WHO) European region connected remotely to search together the root causes of this phenomenon and share national experiences and plans.

At the request of European member states, WHO/Europe developed a framework of policy recommendations to guide governments in the planning and implementation of national and subnational strategies to bolster public support for COVID-19 prevention measures.

It includes 4 key strategies:

  • Understand people: Collect and use evidence for targeted, tailored and effective policies, interventions and communication. 

  • Engage people as part of the solution. 

  • Help people to reduce risk while doing the things that make them happy.Acknowledge and address the hardship people experience, and the profound impact the pandemic has had on their lives. 

At their summit on Thursday, EU leaders pledged to promote co-operation in every aspect of their fight against the coronavirus — by keeping borders open, improving testing and contact tracing, monitoring critical care capacity and developing plans for the swift manufacture and distribution of vaccines. 

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said: “We have different situations in EU countries so it’s good that the handling of measures is in the hands of member states, but of course we need to co-ordinate.” 

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said: “A co-ordinated European approach is of great importance, especially for Germany as a country in the middle of Europe, it is important that the borders remain open.” 

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said: “Close co-ordination between governments and the European Commission is essential to respond quickly and effectively to the new wave of COVID-19. The health response must go hand in hand with the economic one. Only a united Europe will overcome the crisis.” 

And that is all for this week and all for October, isn’t the year just flying by, despite all the stresses and strains of COVID-19? In November, EAPM will have two academic articles arriving, addressing two topics from multi-stakeholder authorship, including an article on gene therapy as well as one on Alzheimer’s and related dementia. 

Here is a link to our newsletter again – do try to have an enjoyable Hallowe’en weekend, stay safe and well, see you next week.

China

Republican report says coronavirus leaked from China lab - scientists still probing origins

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A computer image created by Nexu Science Communication together with Trinity College in Dublin, shows a model structurally representative of a betacoronavirus which is the type of virus linked to COVID-19, shared with Reuters on 18 February 2020. NEXU Science Communication/via REUTERS

A preponderance of evidence proves the virus that caused the COVID-19 pandemic leaked from a Chinese research facility, said a report by US Republicans released on Monday (2 August), a conclusion that US intelligence agencies have not reached, write Jonathan Landay and Mark Hosenball, Reuters.

The report also cited "ample evidence" that Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) scientists - aided by US experts and Chinese and US government funds - were working to modify coronaviruses to infect humans and such manipulation could be hidden.

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Representative Mike McCaul, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, released the report by the panel's Republican staff. It urged a bipartisan investigation into the origins of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic that has killed 4.4 million people worldwide. (Graphic on global cases and deaths).

China denies a genetically modified coronavirus leaked from the facility in Wuhan - where the first COVID-19 cases were detected in 2019 - a leading but unproven theory among some experts. Beijing also denies allegations of a cover-up.

Other experts suspect the pandemic was caused by an animal virus likely transmitted to humans at a seafood market near the WIV.

"We now believe it's time to completely dismiss the wet market as the source," said the report. "We also believe the preponderance of the evidence proves the virus did leak from the WIV and that it did so sometime before 12 September, 2019."

The report cited what it called new and under-reported information about safety protocols at the lab, including a July 2019 request for a $1.5 million overhaul of a hazardous waste treatment system for the facility, which was less than two years old.

In April, the top U.S. intelligence agency said it concurred with the scientific consensus that the virus was not man-made or genetically modified. Read more.

US President Joe Biden in May ordered US intelligence agencies to accelerate their hunt for the origins of the virus and report back in 90 days. Read more.

A source familiar with current intelligence assessments said the US intelligence community has not reached any conclusion whether the virus came from animals or the WIV.

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COVID-19 Delta variant gains prevalence in Italy - health institute

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People rest without wearing masks as Italy lifts mandatory masks outdoors thanks to a decline in the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases and hospitalizations, in Matera, Italy, 28 June. REUTERS/Yara Nardi

The highly contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus has gained dominance in Italy, the National Health Institute (ISS) said on Friday (30 July), releasing data showing it accounted for 94.8% of cases as of 20 July, writes Emilio Parodi, Reuters.

The variant, first identified in India in December 2020, is now dominant worldwide and has led to a spike in infection rates that has stoked concerns over the global economic recovery.

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In the previous survey based on data from 22 June, the Delta variant represented just 22.7% of cases. By contrast, the Alpha variant accounted for 3.2% of cases as of July 20 against a previous prevalence of 57.8%.

"It is essential to continue the systematic tracking of cases and to complete the vaccination cycle as quickly as possible", ISS President Silvio Brusaferro said in a statement.

The ISS said its survey did not include all variant cases but only those detected on the day it was carried out. It added that the Gamma variant, first identified in Brazil, fell to 1.4% of cases from 11.8% in the past survey.

The institute also pointed out an "extremely small increase" in cases of the Beta variant, first identified in South Africa, which it says is characterised by partial immune evasion.

Italy has registered 128,029 deaths linked to COVID-19 since its outbreak emerged in February last year, the second-highest toll in Europe after Britain and the eighth-highest in the world. It has reported 4.34 million cases to date.

Almost 59% of Italians over 12 years were fully vaccinated as of Friday, while about 10% are awaiting their second dose.

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Thousands protest against COVID-19 health pass in France

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Thousands of people protested in Paris and other French cities on Saturday (31 July) against a mandatory coronavirus health pass for entry to a wide array of public venues, introduced by the government as it battles a fourth wave of infections, write Lea Guedj and Yiming Woo.

Protesters injured three police officers in Paris, a police spokesperson said. Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said on Twitter that 19 demonstrators were arrested, including 10 in Paris.

It was the third weekend in a row that people opposed to President Emmanuel Macron's new COVID-19 measures have taken to the streets, an unusual show of determination at a time of year when many people are focused on taking their summer break.

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The number of demonstrators has grown steadily since the start of the protests, echoing the "yellow vest" movement, that started in late 2018 against fuel taxes and the cost of living.

An interior ministry official said 204,090 had demonstrated across France, including 14,250 in Paris alone. This is about 40,000 more than last week.

"We're creating a segregated society and I think it is unbelievable to be doing this in the country of human rights," said Anne, a teacher who was demonstrating in Paris. She declined to give her last name.

A protester holds a sign reading "Vaccinated to freedom", during a demonstration called by the "yellow vest" (gilets jaunes) movement against France's restrictions, including a compulsory health pass, to fight the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Paris, France, July 31, 2021. REUTERS/Sarah Meyssonnier
Protestors attend a demonstration called by the "yellow vest" (gilets jaunes) movement against France's restrictions, including a compulsory health pass, to fight the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Paris, France, July 31, 2021. REUTERS/Sarah Meyssonnier

"So I took to the streets; I have never protested before in my life. I think our freedom is in danger."

Visitors going to museums, cinemas or swimming pools are already denied entry if they cannot produce the health pass showing they have been vaccinated against COVID-19 or have had a recent negative test.

Parliament approved a new law this week that will make vaccinations mandatory for health workers and extend the health pass requirement to bars, restaurants, trade shows, trains and hospitals.

About 3,000 police officers were deployed in the capital, with anti-riot officers striving to keep demonstrators on authorised routes.

Authorities sought to avoid a repeat of events last week, when scuffles between police and demonstrators broke out on the Champs-Elysees. Read more.

Protesters were also out in other cities like Marseille, Lyon, Montpelier, Nantes and Toulouse, shouting "Freedom!" and "No to the health pass!".

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