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COVID-19

How lockdowns and restrictions across different European countries may have saved lives

Strict containment measures and social distancing measures might have already saved up to 59,000 lives across 11 European countries battling the spread of the new coronavirus, scientists say. Here's a closer look.

How lockdowns and restrictions across different European countries may have saved lives
A woman waves from the window of her flat in the district of Trastevere in Rome on March 20, 2020 . AFP

Basing their modelling on the numbers of recorded deaths from COVID-19, researchers from Imperial College London said most countries it looked at had likely dramatically reduced the rate at which the virus spreads.

Using the experiences of countries with the most advanced epidemics like Italy and Spain, the study compared actual fatality rates with an estimate of what would have happened with no measures such as school closures, event  cancellations and lockdowns. 

“With current interventions remaining in place to at least the end of March, we estimate that interventions across all 11 countries will have averted 59,000 deaths up to 31 March,” said the report, which was released Monday.  

“Many more deaths will be averted through ensuring that interventions remain in place until transmission drops to low levels.”

Billions of people around the world have been ordered to stay home to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, which has killed more than 38,000 people since it emerged in China late last year. 

The Imperial College study said despite the grave strain on the medical system in Italy, lockdown measures had “averted a health care catastrophe”, estimating that the containment efforts had saved 38,000 lives. 

In Spain researchers estimate 16,000 lives had been saved, while in France the number was 2,500, in Belgium 560, Germany 550, the United Kingdom 370, Switzerland 340, Austria 140, Denmark 69 and Norway 10.

For Sweden, which has been somewhat of an outlier in Europe so far for avoiding any strict lockdown on the public, the number given was 82.

Epidemiologists from Imperial College are part of the group advising the British government on its outbreak response.  

The study, which used assumptions about the proportion of infected people not recorded in official figures, estimated that some 5.9 million people could have been infected in Italy up to March 28 — almost 10 percent of the population. 

In Spain, researchers noted a recent “large increase” in deaths and estimated that some seven million people — or 15 percent  of the population — have been infected.  

It said it was too early to say whether countries with lower death tolls would see a comparable impact of their intervention measures as those battling a more severe epidemic. 

“We cannot say for certain that the current measures have controlled the epidemic in Europe; however, if current trends continue, there is reason for optimism,” it added.

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COVID-19

French government votes to allow return of Covid tests at border

The French parliament has passed the controversial health bill which updates France's emergency provisions for Covid - and allows the return of negative Covid tests for all travellers at the border, if the health situation requires.

French government votes to allow return of Covid tests at border

The Loi sanitaire was eventually approved by the Assemblée nationale on Monday after several variations and amendments added on its passage through the Assemblée and the Senate. It was voted on and passed Tuesday, May 26th. 

The bill replaces the State of Health Emergency that has been in place since March 2020 and puts in place provision for government actions should the health situation deteriorate or a dangerous new variant of Covid emerge.

The original text had a provision for the return of the health pass at the border, but this has now been scrapped and instead the government has the right to make a negative Covid test a condition of entry for all travellers.

At present negative tests are required only for unvaccinated travellers, and the new test requirement would only be put into force if a dangerous new variant emerges.

The government will be able to implement the testing rule by decree for two months, but a further parliamentary debate would be required to extend it beyond that.

From August 1st the State of Health Emergency will be formally repealed, which means that the government no longer has the power to introduce major limits on personal freedom such as lockdowns or curfews without first having a debate in parliament.

The bill also allows for an extension of data collection required for the SI-DEP epidemic monitoring tools such as the contact tracing app Tous Anti Covid until June 30th, 2023 and Contact Covid until January 31st, 2023. 

The most controversial measure in the bill was the reinstatement of healthcare workers who were suspended for being unvaccinated – this actually only involves a couple of hundred people but medical unions and the medical regulator Haut Autorité de Santé (HAS) have both been against it.

However the bill allows for the eventual lifting of the requirement for Covid vaccination for healthcare workers, when the HAS judges it is no longer necessary and once the requirement is lifted, the suspended healthcare workers will be reinstated “immediately”.

The bill was approved on Monday evening with 184 votes to 149, the result of a joint committee that was able to harmonise the versions of the Assembly and the Senate.

The final vote passed the Senate on Tuesday.

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