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COVID-19

Europe’s ‘alarming’ infection rates and shorter quarantine periods worry WHO chiefs

The European chapter of the World Health Organization on Thursday said it saw "alarming rates of transmission" of Covid-19 across the region and warned countries against shortening quarantine periods.

Europe's 'alarming' infection rates and shorter quarantine periods worry WHO chiefs
A Spanish health worker and volunteer of the SAMU Foundation forms the figure of a heart with her hands before entering the intensive care unit. AFP

The WHO's regional director for Europe Hans Kluge said the number of coronavirus cases seen in September “should serve as a wake-up call for all of us.”

“Although these numbers reflect more comprehensive testing, it also shows alarming rates of transmission across the region,” he told an online press conference from Danish capital Copenhagen.

The health body also said it would not change its guidance calling for a 14-day quarantine period for anyone exposed to the novel coronavirus.

“Our quarantine recommendation of 14 days has been based on our understanding of the incubation period and transmission of the disease. We would only revise that on the basis of a change of our understanding of the science,” WHO Europe's senior emergency officer Catherine Smallwood said.

In France for instance, the recommended length for self-isolation in case of exposure has been reduced to seven days.

It is 10 days in the UK and Ireland, and several more European countries, such as Portugal and Croatia, are currently considering reducing their recommendations.

“Knowing the immense individual and societal impact even a slight reduction in the length of quarantine can have… I encourage countries of the region to make scientific due process with their experts and explore safe reduction options,” Kluge said, adding that the “concept of quarantine must be protected” and “continuously adapted.”

The 53 member states of WHO Europe have recorded nearly five million cases of Covid-19 and more than 227,000 related deaths, according to the organisation's own figures.

The number of daily cases recorded is currently between 40,000 and 50,000, comparable to a daily peak of 43,000 on April 1 — although testing in many countries has increased considerably.

A new record was set on September 11, with some 54,000 cases recorded in 24  hours.

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COVID-19

Court turns down AfD-led challenge to Germany’s spending in pandemic

The German Constitutional Court rejected challenges Tuesday to Berlin's participation in the European Union's coronavirus recovery fund, but expressed some reservations about the massive package.

Court turns down AfD-led challenge to Germany's spending in pandemic

Germany last year ratified the €750-billion ($790-billion) fund, which offers loans and grants to EU countries hit hardest by the pandemic.

The court in Karlsruhe ruled on two challenges, one submitted by a former founder of the far-right AfD party, and the other by a businessman.

They argued the fund could ultimately lead to Germany, Europe’s biggest economy, having to take on the debts of other EU member states on a permanent basis.

But the Constitutional Court judges ruled the EU measure does not violate Germany’s Basic Law, which forbids the government from sharing other countries’ debts.

READ ALSO: Germany plans return to debt-limit rules in 2023

The judgement noted the government had stressed that the plan was “intended to be a one-time instrument in reaction to an unprecedented crisis”.

It also noted that the German parliament retains “sufficient influence in the decision-making process as to how the funds provided will be used”.

The judges, who ruled six to one against the challenges, did however express some reservations.

They questioned whether paying out such a large amount over the planned period – until 2026 – could really be considered “an exceptional measure” to fight the pandemic.

At least 37 percent of the funds are aimed at achieving climate targets, the judges said, noting it was hard to see a link between combating global warming and the pandemic.

READ ALSO: Germany to fast-track disputed €200 billion energy fund

They also warned against any permanent mechanism that could lead to EU members taking on joint liability over the long term.

Berenberg Bank economist Holger Schmieding said the ruling had “raised serious doubts whether the joint issuance to finance the fund is in line with” EU treaties.

“The German court — once again — emphasised German limits for EU fiscal integration,” he said.

The court had already thrown out a legal challenge, in April 2021, that had initially stopped Berlin from ratifying the financial package.

Along with French President Emmanuel Macron, then chancellor Angela Merkel sketched out the fund in 2020, which eventually was agreed by the EU’s 27 members in December.

The first funds were disbursed in summer 2021, with the most given to Italy and Spain, both hit hard by the pandemic.

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