Rapid Risk Assessment: Risk of COVID-19 transmission related to the end-of-year festive season

Risk assessment
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Suggested citation: European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. Risk of COVID-19 transmission related to the end-of-year festive season – 4 December 2020. ECDC: Stockholm; 2020.

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This document assesses the risk of SARS-CoV-2 transmission to the general population and medically vulnerable individuals in the EU/EEA and the UK, from the perspective of the upcoming end-of-year festive season.

Executive summary

After a scale-up of non-pharmaceutical interventions implemented by several Member Sates starting from the end of October, a recent overall decreasing trend in the 14-day COVID-19 notification rate and in the weekly test positivity proportion for the EU/EEA and the UK has been observed. However, SARS-CoV-2 transmission in the EU/EEA and the UK remains high compared with the low levels observed over the summer.

The end-of-year festive season is traditionally associated with activities such as social gatherings, shopping and travelling, which would pose significant additional risks for intensified transmission of SARS-CoV-2. An aggravating factor is that there are reports of what has been described as ‘pandemic fatigue’, with some people becoming de-motivated to follow recommended protective measures, especially during this period.

Lifting measures too early would result in an increase in cases and hospitalisations, and this would be particularly rapid if measures were lifted abruptly. If response measures implemented in October or November were to be lifted on 21 December, modelled projections suggest that a resurgence in COVID-19 hospitalisations could occur as early as the first week of January 2021. If response measures were lifted on 7 December, it is projected that this increase could occur before 24 December. In the current epidemiological situation in the EU/EEA and the UK, the earlier that measures are lifted the larger and more rapid the resultant increase in case numbers, hospitalisations and deaths could be, causing additional pressure on healthcare systems.

Based on the current epidemiological situation in most EU Member States, any adaptation of measures should be undertaken in a targeted, proportionate and coordinated manner, according to the prevailing epidemiology and population vulnerability at the level at which the measures are applied. These measures should be communicated clearly in order to mitigate the risk of increased transmission during the end-of-year season, while also taking into account the social, personal and economic impact for the population.

What risk is being assessed

This document assesses the risk of SARS-CoV-2 transmission to the general population and medically vulnerable individuals in the EU/EEA and the UK, from the perspective of the upcoming end-of-year festive season. Given the current epidemiological situation and the measures implemented, and anticipating end-of-year festive season gatherings, events, mobility, and reports of fatigue to measures in the EU/EEA and the UK, the risk that the COVID-19 pandemic poses to the general population is assessed as high. For vulnerable individuals, including the elderly and people with underlying medical conditions, the risk is assessed as very high.

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