A resurgence of Covid-19 cases in Europe, this time fueled by new, rapidly spreading Omicron subvariants, again threatens to disrupt people’s summer plans.
Several Western European nations recently recorded their highest daily case counts in months, due in part to Omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5.
The surge in cases has prompted calls for heightened vigilance on a continent that has eased most, if not all, of the coronavirus restrictions.
The first resurgence came in May in Portugal, where BA.5 unleashed a wave in early June that hit nearly 30,000 cases daily. However, this wave has started to weaken.
Italy recorded more than 62,700 cases on Tuesday, almost doubling from the previous week, the health ministry said.
Germany, meanwhile, reported more than 122,000 cases on Tuesday.
France recorded over 95,000 cases on Tuesday, the highest daily number since late April, up 45 percent in just one week.
Cases have also risen in the UK, where omicron reinfection has increased sevenfold, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
The ONS blamed the BA.4 and BA.5 variants for the surge, but also said Covid fell to the sixth leading cause of death in May, accounting for 3.3 per cent of all deaths in England and Wales.
– BA.5 ‘Apply’ –
Mircea Sofonea, an epidemiologist at the University of Montpellier, said the European summer wave of Covid could be explained by two factors.
One is decreasing immunity because “the protection conferred by an infection or a dose of vaccine decreases over time,” he told AFP.
The other resulted from the new subvariants BA.4 and especially BA.5, which spread faster because they appear to be both more contagious and better able to escape immunity.
Olivier Schwartz, head of the Department of Viruses and Immunity at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, said BA.5 was “taking over” because it was 10 percent more contagious than BA.2.
“We’re faced with a continuous evolution of the virus, encountering people who already have antibodies – because they’ve been infected or vaccinated before – and then need to find a selective advantage to be able to sneak in,” he said.
But are the new sub-variants stricter?
“Based on limited data, there is no evidence that BA.4 and BA.5 are associated with increased infection severity compared to circulating variants BA.1 and BA.2,” said the European Center for Prevention and Control of Diseases (ECDC). last week.
But rising cases may mean rising hospital admissions and deaths, the ECDC warned.
Alain Fischer, who is coordinating France’s pandemic vaccine strategy, warned that the country’s hospital admissions had started to increase, likely leading to more intensive care admissions and eventually more deaths.
In Germany, however, virologist Klaus Stohr told the ZDF channel that “nothing dramatic will happen in the intensive care units in hospitals”.
– return the mask? –
ECDC urged European countries to “stay vigilant” by maintaining testing and surveillance systems.
“It is expected that in anticipation of future waves, additional booster doses will be needed for the groups most at risk of serious illness,” she added.
In the face of increasing cases, the Italian government decided last week to extend the obligation to wear FFP2 medical masks on public transport until September 30.
“I would like to continue to recommend protecting yourself with a second booster shot,” said Italy’s Health Minister Roberto Speranza, who recently tested positive for Covid.
Fischer said France had “clearly insufficient vaccination rates” and needed a second booster shot.
The federal government is awaiting expert advice on June 30 to decide whether to reintroduce the mask requirement indoors.
The head of the World Medical Association, German doctor Frank Ulrich Montgomery, has recommended a “toolbox” against the Covid wave that includes mask-wearing, vaccinations and social distancing.
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