Summer rhymes are back this year in Europe as COVID-19 cases rise, spurred by new Omicron sub-variants, leading to calls for vigilance.
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Cases rise in Europe
A few weeks ago, many European countries faced a new acceleration in the spread of infection.
Portugal was the first to be affected, and saw a marked increase in new cases in May, which peaked in early June at nearly 30,000 infections a day. The wave has since started to recede.
In the UK, daily infections are once again near their highest levels since the start of the pandemic.
Italy was also affected by the registration of 30,526 new cases within 24 hours (from Saturday to Sunday), an increase of 63.4% in 7 days, according to the latest report issued by the Ministry of Health.
Germany suffered the same fate.
France is not to be outdone, with the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus accelerating for ten days in mainland France, and the contamination rate now exceeding 44,000 cases (average over a seven-day period).
The recovery is explained by the coupling of two effects, explains to AFP Mircea T. Soufonia, a lecturer in epidemiology at the University of Montpellier. On the other hand, ‘immune decline’, i.e., ‘the protection conferred by infection or vaccine dose decreases over time’.
On the other hand, the arrival of new Omicron sub-strains, BA.4 and especially BA.5, which spread faster as they seem to benefit from the dual advantage of infection and escape immunity.
“We are facing an ever-evolving virus, which is meeting people who already have antibodies — because they have been infected before or have been vaccinated — and who should have the selective advantage of being able to infiltrate,” deciphers Olivier Schwartz, director of the Pasteur Institute’s Virology and Immunology Unit. .
“BA.5 and to a lesser extent BA.4 are prevalent in Europe,” he adds. However, “the epidemiological data show that it will be 10% more contagious than BA.2, which is why he is taking charge.”
Towards an increase in hospitalization?
On the seriousness of BA.5, Mr. Schwartz said: “It is too early to comment, in the absence of solid clinical data.”
The European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) decided in mid-June that, based on the still-limited data, “there is no evidence that BA.4 and BA.5 are associated with increased severity of infection compared to the circulating variants BA.1 and BA. 2″.
However, as in previous waves, the center warned that the overall increase in Covid-19 cases could lead to increased hospitalizations, critical care admissions, and deaths.
The European population in general is immunized thanks to previous vaccinations and infections. This gives it stronger prior protection against the risks of a serious form of the disease than the risk of developing a new infection, which should limit the extent of relapse into hospital treatment.
In France, a “moderate epidemiological recovery” in recent weeks (case numbers more than doubled in three weeks) was “accompanied by a small resumption of hospitalization” and risks leading to a “late increase over time” in critical care admissions and deaths, he noted on Tuesday. Professor Alan Fisher, Chair of the Vaccine Strategy Steering Board.
“Nothing dramatic will happen in hospital intensive care units,” German virologist Klaus Storr reassured.
New measures for the summer?
The European Center for Disease Control and Prevention called on European countries to “exercise vigilance” and maintain testing and surveillance systems.
“It is expected that additional booster doses (of the vaccine) will be required for groups most at risk of serious disease, in anticipation of future waves,” he said.
Some countries have already announced new measures. And so Italy decided in mid-June to extend the obligation to wear FFP2 masks in public transport (excluding planes) until September 30. Health Minister Roberto Speranza has recommended that he is currently positive “I want to continue to recommend that you protect yourself by doing a second booster for the COVID-19 vaccine”, especially for those most at risk.
The German president of the World Medical Association, Frank Ulrich Montgomery, has called for the rapid adoption of a “toolbox” containing a mask, vaccination and limiting contacts.
In France, this week the government called on the elderly to receive the second booster vaccine “as soon as possible”, against the background of a “moderate epidemiological recovery”. A quarter of eligible people got the second booster vaccine against COVID, a rate that is “clearly insufficient,” the government asserts.
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