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In December 2019, when the effects of the coronavirus were limited to China alone, Europe and other parts of the world had no idea about the challenges that were soon to come – most people had not even heard of the virus till then. The turning point in Europe’s perception of the epidemic came when the virus – at that time referred to as the Wuhan-virus, reflecting the perceived localized nature of the disease – hit Italy, reaching the attention of the European public. The rapid rise in the number of active cases and deaths in Lombardy fuelled a quick, panic-like reaction on behalf of nearly all European governments – showcasing that the Europe of the 21st century had not been prepared for a global pandemic.

Having learned the lessons of the first wave of the pandemic and in anticipation of a second one, we need to be prepared. We need to aim at building a proper public health action plan that considers both the health and the economy-related consequences of the coronavirus crisis. Even though the connection between the two issues might not be apparent at first sight, they are in fact heavily interrelated, and they may influence each other in both positive and negative ways.

Recent Rise of Covid-19 Cases in Europe as Warning to Seemingly Unaffected Hungary
Recent Rise of Covid-19 Cases in Europe as Warning to Seemingly Unaffected Hungary

Although the situation regarding the coronavirus epidemic in Europe has improved significantly in recent months, several countries have reported a worrisome rise in the number of new cases. While Hungary does not appear to be affected as of yet, data from neighboring countries suggest caution. The coronavirus epidemic has not yet disappeared and it continues […]Continue reading

Increases in the number of cases in neighboring Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Romania, and Ukraine should make us realize that an efficient prevention strategy requires the coordinated action of all nations in the region. This would certainly require a greater degree of coordination within the entire EU. The question arises whether the WHO could be involved in the process of the decision-making- and if so, to what degree – given that the reliability of the institution has been called into question by the USA, culminating in America’s decision not to cooperate with the organization any longer.

The first problem surrounds diagnostics. Although PCR (polymerase chain reaction) technology has been universally adopted as a means of screening for the coronavirus, there appear to be significant differences between testing facilities in the exact use of the method. In some cases, specificity gets more emphasis than sensitivity, leading to a number of false outcomes. Furthermore, different laboratories often use different PCR methods to test for the virus.

Fact

Some facts about PCR. The aim of this method of diagnostics is to multiply the genetic information (DNA) derived from an organism with the use of the Taq polymerase, a special enzyme produced by the Thermus aquaticus bacteria. All that is needed is a sample from the organism in question, a large amount of DNA/RNA components, and the enzyme that connects the base pairs. The bacteria used in the method is found in a geyser which provides the kind of extreme hot environment that is required for its enzyme to be activated. During a PCR test, the machine increases the temperature enough for the activation, which kick-starts the multiplication of the DNA sample.

In the case of those already recovered from the coronavirus disease, tests with an even greater degree of diversity are used. These tests specifically detect the antibodies produced by the human immune system to fight the disease. These tests can be even more problematic. News has spread about cases in which a watermelon or a potato tested positive; or a freshly opened, yet unused test showed a positive result.

The establishment of EU-wide universal testing practices would be crucial for efficiently counter-acting the next wave. These practices could be set by a board of medical researchers from all member states of the Union. The same applies for vaccine research and development. The motivating force behind this research should not be the kind of competition characteristic of laissez-fair capitalism; instead, a joint European research project should unite the resources and expertise of all members. This would increase the efficiency and speed of research projects centered on tackling the virus. These developments would increase social cohesion when it comes to fighting the pandemic and enhance the trust vested in medical professionals and vaccines in particular – leading to a system that recognizes the need for cooperation to reach shared goals.

Coronavirus: Is a Second-Wave Coming?
Coronavirus: Is a Second-Wave Coming?

In recent weeks, data has shown that less new coronavirus-related deaths have occurred in Hungary, while the number of active cases slowly declined and new cases stagnated. However, despite all the reassuring information within the country, as the pandemic intensified in neighboring countries, the government and many experts are preparing for a possible second wave […]Continue reading

The second set of problems surrounds the issue of tackling the pandemic. What is the number of cases that would make the introduction of restrictions legitimate? What kind of restrictions would these be? We could see that a number of countries were too late in introducing lockdowns, bringing their healthcare systems to the brink of collapse. The success of policies in the near future requires the review of the efficiency of restrictions introduced under the first wave. A fundamental misconception has been that action should follow the emergence of severe problems. One of the most important areas of healthcare is preventive medicine. Access to proper equipment is undoubtedly important. However, instead of buying thousands of respiratory machines in an irrational manner, we should focus on devising a common European protocol that could be applied throughout the member states. Of course, this would require a much greater degree of coordination between the healthcare systems of member states; since the financial background, capacity, and quality of medical services vary greatly between European states. Capacity-building could also be enhanced by the reduction of healthcare corruption – the prioritization of personal interests over social goals.

When it comes to border protection and the security of the bloc, the responsibility of the countries positioned on the frontier of the Schengen area (including Hungary) is especially great. This is because these countries need to limit the traffic flowing into the bloc and regulate the humanitarian corridors. This is in the interest of the EU.

The efficient protection of the bloc requires the coordination of all actors which is only possible through the institutions of the EU. Situations like these could showcase the power residing in the unity of the EU. Instead of competition, the response to challenges should lie in cooperation.

The establishment of a joint European coronavirus research center should not be out of the question. This institution could help us strike a balance between the principles of the sovereignty of member states and the centralization of power, and help us tackle a possible second wave – or another future pandemic – much more efficiently.

Featured photo by Zoltán Balogh/MTI 


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