UAntwerp takes lead in coronavirus response in Europe

Summary

Antwerp University is co-ordinating a network preparing to respond if the highly contagious virus reaches Europe

Real-time data

Researchers from Antwerp University are at the forefront of Europe’s preparations to tackle the threat of the deadly new coronavirus that has appeared in China. “With the Chinese New Year coming, we expect an increasing number of victims,” said Herman Goossens, professor of medical microbiology at the university. “But Europe is ready to respond.”

Goossens is co-ordinator of Prepare, the Platform for European Preparedness Against (Re)emerging Epidemics. This EU-funded network has been set up to conduct harmonised, large-scale clinical research studies on infectious diseases, responding rapidly to any severe outbreaks.

The aim is to provide evidence in real time, while an outbreak is happening, in order to inform decisions about how to manage patients and respond to the situation. At the moment, the coronavirus threat to Europe is considered low, but Prepare is taking the opportunity to test its procedures.

“Although the exact extent of the outbreak has yet to be determined, the events in China provide an opportunity to check how prepared European clinical research networks are to respond to a possible further spread,” Goossens explained.

Because travel is so difficult, we think it unwise to have students leave for China

- KU Leuven vice-rector Peter Lievens

For example, the network recently conducted studies on patients with acute lower respiratory tract infections in primary care and in hospitals across Europe, and it is currently looking at how quickly these protocols could be reactivated. Prepare is also asking more than 900 laboratories in 41 European countries about their readiness to detect the new coronavirus.

Meanwhile, Flemish universities are pondering what to do about students and staff in China, or those who are about to travel there. KU Leuven, UAntwerp and VUB have all stopped students leaving for China on study visits under the Erasmus scheme.

“It’s not because there are immediate risks for our students, but because travel is so difficult, particularly in the city of Wuhan,” said Peter Lievens, vice-rector at KU Leuven. “So we thought it unwise to have students leave for China in these circumstances.”

Students and staff who are already in China have been told to stay put, and advised of how best to stay healthy.

UPDATE 26 JANUARY: SINCE THIS ARTICLE WAS PUBLISHED, THREE CASES OF CORONAVIRUS HAVE BEEN CONFIRMED IN FRANCE, THE FIRST IN EUROPE

Photo: Xinhua/BELGA