A recently published study, led by the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC), presents an analysis of risk mitigation measures taken by countries around the world facing the current COVID-19 outbreak. In the study, the risk mitigation measures to contain and limit the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus (known to cause COVID-19), were collated and clustered (using harmonized terminology). The overview gathers lessons learnt, providing an update on the current knowledge for authorities, sectors and first responders on the effectiveness of said measures, and may allow enhanced prevention, preparedness and response for future outbreaks. Various measures such as mobility restrictions, physical distancing, hygienic measures, socio-economic restrictions, communication and international support mechanisms were clustered and reviewed in terms of the nature of the actions taken and their qualitative early-perceived impact. At the time of writing, it is still premature to express the quantitative effectiveness of each risk mitigation cluster, but it seems that the best mitigation results are reported when applying a combination of voluntary and enforceable measures.
The JRC analysis shows that the world was not well prepared for the pandemic, scientific warnings were not picked up quickly enough, and there were confusing messages from various sources. Many countries gradually moved from advice, to recommendations and ultimately enforceable actions. The process of risk perception in the population and the translation to compliance also took time. This under-estimation of the scale and danger and the lack of trust resulted in a loss of precious time in jointly implementing the best risk mitigation practices.
The pandemic has shown that many health systems lack mechanisms and materials to respond adequately to a quickly spreading infection, and have to rely on societal and economic improvisation. This applies to both rich and poor countries. Several risk mitigation measures have proven effective in slowing down the spread of COVID-19. The analysis clusters them into various categories according to their main objective and reports early signs of effectiveness. Since the rules and policies adopted by many countries differ - as well as their healthcare systems and societal and population structure - the mitigation measures are likely to lead to a range of different results. However, applying a combination of measures is the most effective.
The experts’ recommendations for countries included the following:
§ Invest early in preventive risk mitigation resources to limit the spread of the virus. These measures comprise physical distancing and hygienic measures. The issue of masks is controversial in many countries but the correct wearing of appropriate facemasks is beneficial when physical distancing cannot be ensured.
§ Detection capacities and screening programmes need to be improved and scaled-up, along with appropriate registration of the number of hospitalizations and deaths. Contact tracing is important and new technologies could be applied in this respect;
§ A clear and coordinated communication strategy for effective risk mitigation is crucial for building trust with citizens in a quickly evolving situation. Furthermore, combatting fake news and disinformation can directly help save people’s lives.
The delay in imposing risk mitigation measures is crucial and can make a huge difference between a local outbreak with few cases, and a pandemic with countless sick and deceased citizens. The window of opportunity for full containment, especially in case of asymptomatic transmission, is limited to a very low number of infected people. The article recommends developing better early warnings systems with quick detection capacities in order to lower the intervention time. Such a mechanism should be based on a response time of hours, rather than days.
Intensified multilateral cooperation, building on existing global health mechanisms and networks, is essential at times like this, and the article recommends strengthening these networks. For example, several partner countries of the EU Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Risk Mitigation Centres of Excellence (CBRN CoE) initiative are reporting to have greatly benefited from the inter-sectoral structures put in place, and the mechanism has been found very useful by some countries in mobilizing a coordinated response.
For further information about the JRC study, see the reference information below. This news item is based on a European Commission news report on 8 May 2020 (see web-link below).
European Commission, Joint Research Centre (JRC)
Bruinen de Bruin, Y., A.-S. Lequarre, J. McCourt, P. Clevestig, F. Pigazzani, M. Zare Jeddi, C. Colosio, and M. Goulart. 2020. Initial impacts of global risk mitigation measures taken during the combatting of the COVID-19 pandemic. Safety Science, Vol. 128 (104773). https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ssci.2020.104773
CAPTION FOR FIGURE: [ The JRC-led study (Bruinen de Bruin et al., 2020) recommends that a combination of measures is most effective in slowing down the spread of an outbreak, including physical distancing and hygiene. ©Anon, Adobe stock 2020. ]