ECDC downplays fears that infected mink could infect humans with Coronavirus

Following a mass cull of infected mink in two European countries, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) has concluded that the risk to humans is “low.”
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By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

19 Nov 2020

Thousands of the ferret-like animals, which are bred for their fur, have been culled in Denmark and the Netherlands after some tested positive for the disease.

Global health officials saw the animals as a potential risk for people, fearing that a mutated coronavirus strain could move to humans and evade future COVID-19 vaccines.

Denmark embarked on a plan to eliminate all of its 17 million mink and also announced strict new lockdown measures in the north of the country to prevent a mutated coronavirus from spreading in the animals and to humans.

A similar cull is also planned at the 10 mink farms in the Netherlands.

But a risk assessment into the outbreak in mink by the ECDC, an EU agency, has concluded that the risks to human health is “low.”

A report by the centre, based in Sweden, says, “Evidence from Denmark and the Netherlands on SARS-CoV-2 variants related to mink indicates that these variants are able to circulate rapidly in mink farms and the human communities close to the farms.”

“However, they do not appear to be more transmissible than other circulating SARS-CoV-2 variants. Thus, the probability of infection with mink-related variant strains is assessed as low for the general population.”

“They do not appear to be more transmissible than other circulating SARS-CoV-2 variants. Thus, the probability of infection with mink-related variant strains is assessed as low for the general population” European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC)

It goes on to warn, though, that the risk is “moderate" for populations in areas with a high concentration of mink farms and "very high for individuals with occupational exposure.”

The report goes on to add, “The cross-border spread of SARS-CoV-2 variants related to mink in EU/EEA countries and the UK through animals and animal products appears very low.”

The UK effectively banned all travel between Britain and Denmark when the outbreak in Denmark was first reported.

The centre, in its assessment, makes several recommendations for member states, saying that “culling of mink and destruction of raw pelts from infected farms should be considered in accordance with appropriate biosecurity measures.”

The number of people in contact with mink and mink farms should be limited, says the ECDC analysis which was conducted last Friday.

“It is also important to increase public awareness of mink-related SARS-CoV-2 prevention and control strategies.”

Such awareness should “specifically target mink producers, mink farm workers, veterinarians and veterinary staff working with mink farms and partners in the fur industry,” says the ECDC.

“This is a health matter and, therefore, a national competence and that includes the decision to cull mink. Vaccine manufacturers have been informed of this strain in mink and contact with these animals should be kept to a minimum” European Commission spokesman

When asked about the mink cull at a press briefing, a European commission spokesman said, “You have to remember that this is a health matter and, therefore, a national competence and that includes the decision to cull mink.”

He said, “Vaccine manufacturers have been informed of this strain in mink and contact with these animals should be kept to a minimum.”

Coronavirus is thought to have first jumped from animals to humans in China, possibly via bats or another animal at a food market in Wuhan. Other mammals have been known to catch it such as cats. Others, such as mice and ferrets, are being intentionally infected with it for medical research.

Meanwhile, European Commission Vice-President Valdis Dombrovskis has warned that EU Member States “face a deep and social economic impact” from the health pandemic.

Speaking at a news conference in Brussels on Wednesday, he added, “All EU countries have been affected but some more than others and there is an imbalance here. The economic outlook is still very uncertain. The recovery will take longer than expected and debt levels will inevitably rise.”

He also appealed for an urgent resolution to the current impasse over the EU’s €1.8bm budget, the MMF, and recovery package from the Coronavirus crisis. This comes after Hungary and Poland warned that they will refuse to sign off on the deal reached by 25 Member States last week because of the so-called rule of law mechanism that links EU funding to respect for the rule of law.

The issue is expected to be discussed at an EU summit on Thursday.

Dombrovskis, Commissioner for an Economy that Works for People, told reporters, “We urgently need to reach an agreement on this package because people and businesses are waiting. So all sides need to agree to it. This needs to be signed and sealed as soon as possible.”

His comments were echoed by EU Economy Commissioner, Paolo Gentiloni, who said, “I urge all Member States to show a strong sense of responsibility to citizens and get this package over the line as soon as possible.”

He told the news briefing, “I am confident we can do that.”

Both officials were presenting the Commission’s economic “European Semester Autumn Package.”

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