Foreign experts: Baltic countries need to decide how to keep fighting the COVID-19 virus

2021-09-14
Foreign experts: Baltic countries need to decide how to keep fighting the COVID-19 virus

Around the world, perhaps all countries have chosen different paths to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Some have closed their borders to arrivals and restricted internal movement, others have skipped stringent measures, while others have rushed to vaccinate their full populations at the first opportunity. This year, pandemic management practices in different countries will be among the key topics of the international forum Life Sciences Baltics.

On 23 September, the international forum Life Sciences Baltics invites you to a panel discussion COVID-19: Case Studies of Different Countries with experts from New Zealand, Israel and Lithuania. The discussion will be moderated by Professor Ligita Jančorienė from Vilnius University.

New Zealand has opted for a strategy of the virus eradication from the very start of the pandemic, with stringent restrictions imposed at the bud of the outbreak. This is the approach followed by most countries in South-East Asia and the Pacific, which together account for approximately 20% of the global population.

New Zealand still restricts the flow of international arrivals, with stringent quarantine and testing rules. Moreover, anyone who develops symptoms of a cold is immediately tested, and every infected person’s contacts are carefully traced and self-isolated. The pace of testing has remained high even at the low number of cases. It is estimated that this strategy has saved 7–8 thousand lives in New Zealand.

However, Mr Baker, the initiator of the New Zealand elimination strategy, a member of the Ministry of Health’s COVID-19 Technical Advisory Group and Professor at the University of Otago, admits that the future is uncertain.

“A new virus strain could disrupt all immunisation. There is a race between the virus evolution and our scientific capacity to innovate. I believe that the evolution of the virus into an endemic infection is inevitable, thus vaccinating as many people as possible is important. The challenge the world faces is that some countries still have no vaccines, inequalities are huge, and this problem will only get worse over time. We cannot say whether we are halfway to managing this threat, but I am optimistic and see positive developments even in the current situation,” says the New Zealand professor.

Meanwhile, Israel has already experienced four COVID-19 outbreaks. The country has managed them with the help of comprehensive patient data, proactive communication and rapid vaccination. “We had very little data during the first wave, but based on data from past infections, we identified several at-risk groups. We called those in the highest risk group and said: ‘We have very little knowledge about this infection, so keep yourselves safe,” says Prof. Ran Balitzer, the Chair of the Israeli government’s COVID-19 National Experts Team counseling the government on its Covid-19 response, and the Chief Innovation Officer at the Clalit Research Institute. He said that the strategy has worked and contributed to coronavirus mortality rates in Israel that were among the lowest in the world during the first two waves.

Israel started vaccinating its population as early as the end of 2020, during the third wave of the pandemic. At the same time, the decision to end the global quarantine during this outbreak followed one of the world’s first vaccine effectiveness studies, which showed that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was effective in 94% of cases and prevented more severe disease in 92% of cases.

“The Baltic countries, like the rest of the world, need to understand that this virus is hard to beat, adapts quickly and that the delta strain is highly contagious. Each country should therefore review its tactics and decide what its next steps should be in the fight against COVID-19,” said Mr Balicer.

For now, he said, the key is to vaccinate as many people as possible in the world and as soon as possible, in the hope that global immunity will be established at some point in time. “The virus will remain, we will just naturally become more resistant. Then this pandemic will become endemic, just like the terrible Spanish flu of 1918, which hits us every cold season, but we survive it,” says the Israeli professor.

“The COVID-19 pandemic affected public health very significantly, and even when we achieve universal vaccination, we will still have a long way to go to eradicate the negative traces left by this pandemic throughout the healthcare system and on people’s mental health,” stresses Professor Mindaugas Stankūnas of the Lithuanian University of Health Sciences.

This year, the international forum Life Sciences Baltics will take place virtually 20–24 September. The event organiser Enterprise Lithuania, the entrepreneurship and export development agency, plans over 50 world-level speakers to participate in the Forum’s conference on 22-23 September, to present life sciences innovations and discuss topics such as the COVID-19 pandemic, gene editing, drug development, digital health, medical technologies, personalised medicine and microbiome.

Life Sciences Baltics will be held for the fifth time. Until now, the largest life sciences event in the Baltics has been held in Vilnius, attended by approximately 1,500 life sciences experts, scientists, innovators and policy makers. The event consists of an international scientific conference, B2B meetings, an exhibition, a scientific poster session and a programme for startups.

Life Sciences Baltics is funded by the European Union Social Fund. More information: https://lifesciencesbaltics.com/

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