Brussels: COVID and its variants are “very much still with us” and increasingly circulating in our communities, EU Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides told Euractiv, stressing the need for vaccination in light of the co-existence of three viruses simultaneously.

Recent data show that some EU countries are experiencing a re-surge of COVID cases, while Kyriakides said an added challenge is the co-circulation of other respiratory diseases.

In Croatia, local media reported that from 12 to 18 December, there were 68 Covid-related deaths registered. In Greece, there are projections for 80 deaths weekly if current trends continue, while in Italy, flu and COVID cases reached a record in the last two weeks of 2023.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) told Euractiv that the resurges of SARS-CoV-2, as well as seasonal influenza and Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), are not unexpected, as well as the co-circulation of the three viruses.

“Vaccination remains a crucial shield against COVID, especially for the most vulnerable in our societies. I had stressed this in a letter sent to all Health Ministers in September on the need for vaccination for COVID and seasonal influenza”, Kyriakides noted, highlighting the need to be continuously vigilant and prepared.

“We need adequate testing, sequencing, reporting and sharing of COVID data. This is the only way we can continue to effectively track the spread of the viruses circulating and their variants and keep each other safe”, she added.

According to ECDC, countries report a mix of increasing and decreasing trends in SARS-CoV-2 activity, COVID-19 hospitalisations, and ICU admissions and deaths, with severe outcomes predominantly among those aged 65 years and above.

But experts warn that a clearer picture of the situation will likely be available in the next couple of weeks, after the Christmas break, when many gatherings occur.

Some capitals are already mulling over introducing new restrictive measures, such as mandatory masks in specific places.

Euractiv’s Max Griera reports that at a meeting on Monday, the Spanish Health Ministry had a clash with the autonomous regions over the mandatory use of masks in health centres.

Late last night, the Health Ministry imposed masks in health centres nationwide as of Wednesday.

Some estimate that introducing restrictive measures before the EU elections could be risky as it could be politically exploited by the far right.