The head of the EU’s agency for disease control has warned that the UK is one of five European countries failing to reduce active coronavirus infections, despite Boris Johnson’s claims of success.
Andrea Ammon, the director of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, suggested on Monday that the UK had yet to progress as far as the majority of European countries in tackling the disease.
In evidence to the European parliament’s committee on public health, Ammon said Europe as a whole appeared to have passed the peak of infections on Saturday, with only Bulgaria still experiencing an increase in cases of infection.
But she told MEPs that the UK, along with Poland, Romania and Sweden, stood out as showing “no substantial changes in the last 14 days”.
“All the others, we really see this substantial decrease,” Ammon said of the cumulative incidence rate, which provides a measure of the prevalence of active cases in the population. She did not offer any explanation of the differences.
The ECDC monitors all 27 EU member states plus the UK, Norway, Liechtenstein and Iceland.
The agency reported that as of Monday there had been 1.2m confirmed cases of infection, with 136,347 deaths within the territory it monitors.
The UK has recorded 186,599 confirmed cases and 28,466 fatalities, a death count second only to Italy, according to the ECDC’s latest data. Only the US has suffered more deaths.
Last week, Johnson claimed that Britain had gone past the peak and was “on the downward slope”.
In the last week there has been a decrease of around 13% in the the number of people with Covid-19 in UK hospitals. There has also been a decrease in the number of deaths.
The government has warned of the difficulties in making international comparisons, with the Cabinet Office minister, Michael Gove, insisting that while the government “will have made mistakes” the evidence will need to be assessed in the future.
But Ammon’s suggestion that the UK is yet to show the sustained improvement seen elsewhere in Europe offers some grounds for caution as Downing Street seeks to champion its efforts to reduce the rate of infection.
It has been suggested in Whitehall that a better insight into the relative success of governments will be found in the increase of excess deaths during the pandemic, rather than just those officially recorded as being related to Covid-19.
But an EU-backed project monitoring all excess deaths during the pandemic reported that England has seen the highest rise in deaths over the five-year average compared with Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.
Ammon, a former head of department for infectious disease epidemiology at the Robert Koch Institute in Berlin, said the lockdowns brought in by governments across Europe as a whole had reducing transmissions by 45% compared with 8 April.
She warned, however, against any complacency and suggested that her agency had little confidence that the reporting of deaths and infections was complete.
Researchers at the University of Bonn suggested on Monday that as more than 10 times as many people in Germany have probably been infected with the coronavirus than the number of confirmed cases, following a field trial in one of the worst hit towns.