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HEALTH

Coronavirus: Germany blocks truck full of protective masks headed for Switzerland

German customs authorities have blocked the export of a truck filled with 240,000 protective masks to Switzerland, which Swiss authorities have said is part of a broader export ban on protective gear.

Coronavirus: Germany blocks truck full of protective masks headed for Switzerland
Photo: AFP

Switzerland has called for an emergency meeting with the German ambassador about the issue. As reported by the NZZ,  State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) on Sunday called upon “German authorities to release the blocked masks immediately”. 

The situation is particularly severe for Switzerland as the country produces very little protective gear. 

SECO said a truck with 240,000 masks on board was commandeered before it left German soil by customs authorities. SECO added that the interception does not appear to be an isolated incident, with all further transports likely to be blocked. 

German government on Wednesday banned the export of medical protective equipment such as goggles, respiratory masks, protective suits and gloves. France has made a similar order. 

READ ALSO: Germany bans exports of gloves and masks over coronavirus

Hospitals and nursing homes are concerned about the supply of masks in coming weeks, as the stock is already below optimal levels. 

In a press conference on Sunday, the Head of Communicable Diseases Division at the Swiss Federal Office for Public Health said the country has a reserve of two different types of masks, some of which have been distributed to health centres already. 

On the diplomatic dispute with Germany regarding the import of masks, Koch said simply “We are trying to buy masks and protection material.”

Avoiding 'mask hysteria'

Health officials have frequently told the general public that healthy people should not wear masks and to refrain from purchasing them as they make it more difficult for sick people and medical professionals to access them. 

According to the WHO, around 80 percent of people who contract the new coronavirus recover without needing special treatment.

Around one out of every six people who gets COVID-19 becomes seriously ill and develops difficulty breathing.

Some 3.4 percent of cases are fatal, according to the latest WHO figures. Older people and those with underlying medical problems like high blood pressure, heart problems or diabetes, are more likely to develop serious illness.

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HEALTH

WHO says European festivals should go ahead despite monkeypox risk

Most new cases of monkeypox are currently detected in Western Europe. The World Health Organisation says this is no reason to cancel more than 800 festivals scheduled to take place on the continent this summer.

WHO says European festivals should go ahead despite monkeypox risk

The World Health Organization said Friday that European summer festivals should not be cancelled due to the monkeypox outbreak but should instead manage the risk of amplifying the virus.

A surge of monkeypox cases has been detected since May outside of the West and Central African countries where the disease has long been endemic.

Most of the new cases have been in Western Europe.

More than 3,200 confirmed cases and one death have now been reported to the WHO from 48 countries in total this year.

“We have all the summer festivals, concerts and many other events just starting in the northern hemisphere,” Amaia Artazcoz, the WHO’s mass gatherings technical officer, told a webinar entitled “Monkeypox outbreak and mass gatherings: Protecting yourself at festivals and parties”.

The events “may represent a conducive environment for transmission”, she said.

“These gatherings have really close proximity and usually for a prolonged period of time, and also a lot of frequent interactions among people,” Artazcoz explained.

“Nevertheless… we are not recommending postponing or cancelling any of the events in the areas where monkeypox cases have been identified.”

Sarah Tyler, the senior communications consultant on health emergencies at WHO Europe, said there were going to be more than 800 festivals in the region, bringing together hundreds of thousands of people from different countries.

“Most attendees are highly mobile and sexually active and a number of them will have intimate skin-to-skin contact at or around these events,” she said.

“Some may also have multiple sexual contacts, including new or anonymous partners. Without action, we risk seeing a surge in monkeypox cases in Europe this summer.”

Risk awareness

The UN health agency recommends that countries identify events most likely to be associated with the risk of monkeypox transmission.

The WHO urged festival organisers to raise awareness through effective communication, detect cases early, stop transmission and protect people at risk.

The outbreak in newly-affected countries is primarily among men who have sex with men, and who have reported recent sex with new or multiple partners, according to the WHO.

People with symptoms are advised to avoid attending gatherings, while people in communities among whom monkeypox has been found to occur more frequently than in the general population should exercise particular caution, it says.

The normal initial symptoms of monkeypox include a high fever, swollen lymph nodes and a blistery chickenpox-like rash.

Meg Doherty, from the global HIV, hepatitis and sexually-transmitted infection programmes at WHO, said: “We are not calling this a sexually-transmitted infection.

“Stigmatising never helps in a disease outbreak,” she added.

“This is not a gay disease. However, we want people to be aware of what the risks are.”

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