The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) said on Friday that countries should provide free COVID-19 testing for refugees from Ukraine to avoid outbreaks as more than three million people flee their war-stricken homeland. Infectious diseases and conflict often go hand-in-hand, and the risk of infections spreading could be further exacerbated as COVID vaccination rates in Ukraine have been low overall at 35% versus the EU average of 71.7%.
Those fleeing the country should be offered a full course of COVID-19 vaccines, and booster doses, if they do not have proof of prior inoculation, with an emphasis on those at greater risk of severe COVID-19, the ECDC said.
Some Ukrainian refugees have fled to nearby countries in Europe such as Poland, Slovakia, Romania while others are looking to move further west to escape Russia’s invasion. Refugee reception centres are known to be at a greater risk of disease outbreaks.
The ECDC said countries should test at those centres, and try to isolate those displaying symptoms. Figures showing a global rise in COVID-19 cases could herald a much bigger problem as some countries also report a drop in testing rates, the World Health Organization said on Tuesday, warning nations to remain vigilant against the virus.
Meanwhile, 21 deaths linked to Covid-19 have been recorded in Northern Ireland in the latest weekly update.
The weekly toll is down six on the 27 deaths that occurred in the previous week, according to data compiled by the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (Nisra).
The latest deaths, registered in the week ending March 11, take the total number of coronavirus-linked fatalities recorded by Nisra to 4,371.
The Nisra figure is drawn from different data sources and is always higher than the Department of Health’s total, as it provides a broader picture of the impact of Covid-19.
On March 11, the department had reported 3,249 deaths.
The department’s statistics focus primarily on hospital deaths and only include people who have tested positive for the virus.
Nisra obtains its data from death certificates on which Covid-19 is recorded as a factor by a medical professional, regardless of where the death took place or whether the patient tested positive.
The statistics agency reports its Covid data with a lag of a week.
The Nisra figure includes 3,038 deaths in hospital, 941 in care homes, and 392 at residential addresses, hospices or other locations.
Nisra reported that up to March 11, the deaths of 1,234 care home residents were linked to Covid-19, 28.2% of all coronavirus-related deaths.
Covid-19 was also mentioned on the death certificate of 32 of the 338 deaths registered in the week to March 11.
Some of the deaths registered in the week ending March 11 could have taken place before that week, as fatalities can take a number of days to register.
Those aged 75 and over account for 73.5% of the Covid-related deaths registered between March 19 2020 and March 11 2022. - Additional reporting Reuters