(Adds details, background, quotes)
By Kate Kelland
LONDON, March 17 (Reuters) - Every country in Europe should be taking the “boldest” actions possible to try to halt or slow the epidemic of COVID-19 disease caused by the new coronavirus, the World Health Organization’s European director said on Tuesday.
Speaking after an online meeting of health ministry representatives from across the region, Hans Kluge, WHO Regional Director for Europe, said he was “very pleased” to see Britain stepping up its recommendations for social distancing, and urged all countries to work together and learn from each other.
“Europe is the epicentre of the first pandemic of coronavirus and every country, with no exceptions, needs to take their boldest actions to stop or slow the virus spread,” Kluge said during an online news briefing for media.
Britain toughened its approach to the outbreak on Monday with moves to close down social life in the world’s fifth largest economy and advice to those over 70 with underlying health problems that they should self-isolate.
Italy, Spain, France, Germany and others have imposed severe lockdowns.
“These are unprecedented times,” Kluge said. “It is important that countries work together, learn from each other and harmonise the efforts.”
Kluge, whose WHO regional office covers 53 countries from Iceland to Uzbekistan, noted that the COVID-19 outbreak is progressing at different speeds in different countries.
He said this was due to on demographics and other factors, and meant that, broadly, countries were able to be classified in one of four scenarios or states of the outbreak: One - no case; Two - first case; Three - first cluster; Four - first evidence of community transmission.
“Some of our member states are in scenario 2 and 3, many are in 3 and 4,” Kluge said. “The basic actions in each scenario are the same, but the emphasis changes depending on which transmission scenario a country is in.”
Kluge added that experience of China and others shows that “when put in place quickly and effectively”, testing and contact tracing combined with social distancing measures and community mobilisation “can prevent infections and save lives”. (Reporting by Kate Kelland; editing by Nick Macfie)