Are sporting events like Euro 2020 becoming super-broadcasters? India Today TV Consulting editor-in-chief Rajdeep Sardesai spoke to Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO technical officer for Covid-19, who said it was incredibly frustrating for her to personally see celebratory photos in pubs.
Q: The WHO has reported a 10% increase in Covid cases in Europe in one week. Are sporting events like Euro 2020 becoming super-broadcasters?
If we give an opportunity for the virus to spread, it will. Many factors contribute to the spread. One of them is these variants, especially the Delta variant which has increased transmissibility. The other factor is the increase in social diversity. And social mix can happen in several ways. It can happen in these sporting events. But it’s not just the event itself. It’s all the other side events: the meetings in pubs, in the streets. We have increased social mobility and we have very low vaccine coverage levels around the world. These factors create a very dangerous situation. Super-propagation events will eventually have more transmissibility than expected.
Q: Where does that leave WHO and governments?
We are working with governments to assess the risks of these events. We review plans and protocols for early detection, surveillance, physical distancing, ventilation and use of masks and advise them on how best to do it. We are starting to see an increase in cases in a number of countries of people returning from these events. We have seen an increase in Finland, Scotland, Denmark and the Netherlands. And we are grateful to those countries that have good surveillance systems to detect cases from these events. This is something we cautioned against. There are consequences. We must be prepared to act quickly to try to limit the spread and prevent it in the first place.
Q: Are we heading for another global wave?
That’s a very good question. The whole world remains very fragile. All of these factors that I have mentioned expose us to other peaks and waves. If we allow this virus to spread, it will. We need good surveillance, testing, genome sequencing, isolation and clinical care. If we don’t have this holistic approach, yes, we risk more peaks and waves in the future.
Q: Is there a fear that future waves may overtake already slow vaccination campaigns?
The virus is mutating. It is moving faster than we can immunize people. It is because we do not have enough vaccines in the world. About 300 billion doses have been administered to date. If they had been used for high risk workers and those with underlying conditions, we could have been in a very different situation. And it is “vaccine and” not “vaccine only”. It is health and social measures, surveillance, testing, clinical care and vaccination that will bring the virus under control. Every leader has a role to play.
Q: Parts of India are still stuck. Those in Mumbai might say that now is not the right time to organize Euro 2020. How to achieve this balance?
When I say public health and social measures, that does not mean confinement. Some of them may include restricted movements. It uses targeted approaches. Where is the virus transmitted most intensely? How do you make the best use of your resources? It is unrealistic to expect countries to be locked up until they are fully immunized. But use the tools we have: masking, ventilation, avoid crowded spaces.
Q: What about images of people celebrating in pubs without masks after a Euro 2020 game?
It is incredibly frustrating for me to see them. And I speak personally. We need people to understand that what they are doing increases their risk. This can fuel the spread. The cases will start to appear a few weeks later. Hospitalization will take place a few weeks later. Serious illness and death will occur a few weeks later. Is it fair that some countries are able to do some of these things and others not? Because we are all in danger.
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