An increase in Covid-19 transmission rates across Europe over the last two weeks, combined with low levels of vaccination in some countries, is “deeply worrying”, the World Health Organization has said.
The WHO said it feared another 236,000 Covid-19 deaths in Europe by 1 December.
“Last week, there was an 11% increase in the number of deaths in the region – one reliable projection is expecting 236,000 deaths in Europe, by December 1,” WHO Europe director Hans Kluge told reporters.
He added that “the stagnation in vaccine uptake in our region is of serious concern”.
Europe has registered around 1.3 million Covid deaths to date.
Of the WHO Europe’s 53 member states, 33 have registered an incidence rate greater than 10% in the past two weeks, Dr Kluge said.
He attributed the higher transmission to the spread of the more transmissible Delta variant, an “exaggerated easing” of restrictions and measures, and a surge in summer travel.
As of 26 August, Ireland’s 14-day incidence rate was 530.7 per 100,000.
While around half of people in Europe are fully vaccinated, vaccination uptake in the region has slowed, Dr Kluge also noted.
“In the past six weeks, it has fallen by 14%, influenced by a lack of access to vaccines in some countries and a lack of vaccine acceptance in others.”
Only 6% of people in lower and lower-middle income countries in Europe are fully vaccinated, and some countries have only managed to vaccinate one in 10 health professionals.
“The stagnation in vaccine uptake in our region is of serious concern,” Dr Kluge said, urging countries to “increase production, share doses, and improve access”.
He said that a third-dose booster shot of the Covid-19 vaccination is a way to keep the most vulnerable safe and “not a luxury”.
The WHO said earlier this month data did not indicate a need for booster shots, while topping up already fully vaccinated people would further widen a vaccine-availability gap between rich and lower-income countries.
“A third dose of vaccine is not a luxury booster (that is) taken away from someone who is still waiting for a first jab. It’s basically a way to keep the most vulnerable safe,” Dr Kluge said.
“We have to be a little bit careful with the booster shot, because there is not yet enough evidence,” he said.
“But more and more studies show that a third dose keeps vulnerable people safe, and this is done by more and more countries in our region,” he said.
Dr Kluge urged European countries with excess vaccines to share them with other countries, particularly those in Eastern Europe and Africa.
Teachers and school staff should be among the groups prioritised for Covid-19 vaccinations so that schools in Europe and Central Asia can stay open, the WHO and Unicef said.
Measures to ensure that schools can stay open throughout the pandemic “include offering teachers and other school staff the Covid-19 vaccine as part of target population groups in national vaccination plans,” the UN agencies wrote in a statement.
The recommendation, already made by a group of WHO experts in November 2020 before the vaccination roll-out, should be done “while ensuring vaccination of vulnerable populations,” the statement said.
As schools reopen after the summer holidays, the agencies said it was “vital that classroom-based learning continue uninterrupted,” despite the spread of the more contagious Delta variant of the virus.
“This is of paramount importance for children’s education, mental health and social skills, for schools to help equip our children to be happy and productive members of society,” Dr Kluge said in the statement.
“The pandemic has caused the most catastrophic disruption to education in history,” he added.
The agencies urged countries to vaccinate children over the age of 12 who have underlying medical conditions that put them at greater risk of severe Covid-19 disease.
It also recalled the importance of measures to improve the school environment during the pandemic, including better ventilation, smaller class sizes, social distancing and regular Covid testing for children and staff.
According to the WHO’s recommendations published in early July, testing of children in risk groups who display Covid-19 symptoms should be a priority.
Courtesy of rte.ie
China is racing to contain its worst coronavirus outbreak in months, as health officials blamed the highly infectious Delta variant for a surge in infections spanning 14 provinces.
China reported 328 symptomatic infections in July, almost equal to the total number of local cases from February to June.
“The main strain circulating at present is the Delta variant … which poses an even greater challenge to virus prevention and control work,” said Mi Feng, spokesman for the National Health Commission (NHC).
The outbreak is geographically the largest to hit China in several months, challenging the country’s early success in snuffing out the pandemic within its borders after Covid-19 seeped out of Wuhan.
But that record has been thrown into jeopardy after the fast-spreading Delta variant broke out at Nanjing airport in eastern Jiangsu province earlier this month.
More than 260 infections nationwide have been linked to the cluster in Nanjing, where nine cabin cleaners at an international airport tested positive on 20 July.
Hundreds of thousands have already been locked down in Jiangsu province, while Nanjing has tested all 9.2 million residents twice.
The contagiousness of the Delta variant combined with the peak tourist season and high passenger circulation at the airport has led to the rapid spread of this outbreak, NHC official He Qinghua told reporters.
Fresh cases reported today in two more regions – Fujian province and the sprawling megacity of Chongqing – included one patient who visited the tourist city of Xi’an, Shaanxi province, and an international cargo crew member who recently travelled from abroad, authorities said.
Officials in one Chongqing district ordered emergency mass testing late yesterday for people who had visited venues linked to confirmed cases.
After one asymptomatic case was discovered in Zhengzhou, the epicentre of recent deadly floods in central Henan province, city officials ordered mass testing of all 10 million residents.
The head of the city health commission was also sacked.
The tourist city of Zhangjiajie in Hunan province locked down all 1.5 million residents and shut all tourist attractions yesterday, according to an official notice.
Health officials said the virus was likely brought there via the Nanjing cluster, according to preliminary investigations.
Officials are now scrambling to track people nationwide who recently travelled from Nanjing or Zhangjiajie, and have urged tourists not to travel to areas where cases have been found.
After reports that some people sickened in the latest cluster were vaccinated, health officials said this was “normal” and stressed the importance of vaccination alongside strict measures.
“The Covid vaccine’s protection against the Delta variant may have somewhat declined, but the current vaccine still has a good preventative and protective effect against the Delta variant,” said Feng Zijian, virologist at the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention.
More than 1.6 billion vaccine doses have so far been administered nationwide as of yesterday, the NHC said. It does not provide figures on how many people have been fully vaccinated.
Health officials have said they are aiming for 80% of the population to be fully vaccinated by year-end.
Worldwide, coronavirus infections are once again on the upswing, with the World Health Organization announcing an 80% average increase over the past four weeks in five of the health agency’s six regions, a jump largely fuelled by the Delta variant.
First detected in India, it has now reached 132 countries and territories.
“Delta is a warning: it’s a warning that the virus is evolving but it is also a call to action that we need to move now before more dangerous variants emerge,” the WHO’s emergencies director Michael Ryan told a press conference.
He stressed that the “game plan” still works, namely physical distancing, wearing masks, hand hygiene and vaccination.
But both high and low-income countries are struggling to gain the upper hand against Delta, with the vastly unequal sprint for shots leaving plenty of room for variants to wreak havoc and further evolve.
Meanwhile in Australia, where only about 14% of the population is jabbed, the third-largest city of Brisbane and other parts of Queensland state are to enter a snap Covid-19 lockdown today as a cluster of the Delta variant bubbled into six new cases.
“The only way to beat the Delta strain is to move quickly, to be fast and to be strong,” Queensland’s Deputy Premier Steven Miles said while informing millions they will be under three days of strict stay-at-home orders.
The race for vaccines to triumph over variants appeared to suffer a blow as the US Centers for Disease Control released an analysis that found fully immunised people with so-called breakthrough infections of the Delta variant can spread the disease as easily as unvaccinated people.
While the jabs remain effective against severe disease and death, the US government agency said in a leaked internal CDC document “the war has changed” as a result of Delta.
An analysis of a superspreading event in the northeastern state of Massachusetts found three-quarters of the people sickened were vaccinated, according to a report the CDC published yesterday.
The outbreak related to 4 July festivities, with the latest number of people infected swelling to 900, according to local reports. The findings were used to justify a return to masks for vaccinated people in high-risk areas.
“As a vaccinated person, if you have one of these breakthrough infections, you may have mild symptoms, you may have no symptoms, but based on what we’re seeing here you could be contagious to other people,” Celine Gounder, an infectious diseases physician and professor at New York University, told AFP.
According to the leaked CDC document, a review of findings from other countries showed that while the original SARS-CoV-2 was as contagious as the common cold, each person with Delta infects on average eight others, making it as transmissible as chickenpox but still less than measles.
Reports from Canada, Scotland and Singapore suggest Delta infections may also be more severe, resulting in more hospitalisations.
Courtesy of rt.ie
A virus even more transmissible and fatal than Covid-19 will lead the world into the next pandemic, the director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO) has said, noting the “evolutionary certainty” of such an occurrence.
“Make no mistake, this will not be the last time the world faces the threat of pandemic,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told the UN agency’s annual assembly of health ministers from its 194 member states on Monday. “It’s an evolutionary certainty that there will be another virus with the potential to be more transmittable and more deadly than this one.”
On a more positive note, Ghebreyesus said the global number of Covid-19 cases and deaths reported has been decreasing for three consecutive weeks.
But the WHO chief stressed that the world remains “in a fragile situation” and cautioned against any nation assuming it is “out of the woods, no matter its [Covid] vaccination rate.”
He also reiterated his previous calls for governments to donate Covid-19 inoculation doses to the COVAX vaccine-sharing facility backed by the WHO and the Gavi vaccine alliance.
So far, the global rollout of Covid jabs has seen more than 75% of all doses administered in just 10 countries, according to WHO data. Ghebreyesus said such “scandalous inequity” is “perpetuating” the pandemic. He has previously referred to the situation as “vaccine apartheid.”
The efficacy of the world’s current crop of Covid-19 vaccines does not appear to be undermined by emerging variants of the virus, such as the strain first detected in India, Ghebreyesus said. But he did warn variants are “changing constantly” and that any future strains could “render our tools ineffective and drag us back to square one.”
Courtesy of rt.com
COVID-19: Strict national lockdown imposed on France as Emmanuel Macron warns ‘the numbers are charging away from us
France will widen strict lockdown restrictions – which have already been in place in several areas including Paris – to the whole country to combat a third wave of coronavirus sweeping Europe.
In a televised address to the nation, President Emmanuel Macron said the measures will come into effect on Saturday and be in place for at least a month.
He warned the country would “lose control if we do not move now”, introducing restrictions including closing non-essential shops, and shutting schools for three weeks after Easter.
He said timetables will be adapted to allow for one week of online lessons, followed by a two-week holiday.
There will be a month-long domestic travel ban, and a nationwide 7pm-6am curfew will remain in place.
Mr Macron said “the numbers are charging away from us” and France is now faced with “a race against the clock”.
The extended measures mark a departure from the government’s policy in recent months, which has focused on regional restrictions.
School closures in particular had been seen as a very last resort, with the president appearing reluctant to bring in the measure and saying children’s education was “non-negotiable”.
His announcement comes after doctors warned that hospitals are on the brink of being overwhelmed by the number of sick people needing treatment.
Daily new infections hit 59,038 on Wednesday, up from around 20,000 in February.
And on Tuesday, the number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care breached 5,000, exceeding the peak hit during a six-week long lockdown in the autumn.
Mr Macron revealed worrying new data had been seen in recent days, including figures showing 44% of patients in French ICUs are now under the age of 65.
Sky’s Europe correspondent Adam Parsons said of the president’s address: “This really was a classic bit of Emmanuel Macron rhetoric. It was a speech laced with care, with politics and also with a little grain of self-aggrandisement.”
He said that the measures announced are “pretty much the pillars of the lockdown of last year”.
Mr Macron had been holding off another national lockdown since the start of the year, hoping to steer France out of the pandemic while giving the economy a chance to recover from a deep slump.
However, in recent weeks, options have narrowed as the highly contagious and virulent coronavirus variant first detected in Britain has swept across France and much of Europe.
Ten days ago, the government shut non-essential stores and limited people’s movements in Paris and other regions ravaged by the virus.
The president defended his choice not to introduce stricter measures earlier, saying he believes the government “acted rightly” to trust the public.
But he did admit to having “made mistakes” in his handling of the pandemic which he had “learned” from.
“At every stage of this epidemic, we could tell ourselves that we could have done better, that we made mistakes. All of this is true,” he said.
“But I do know one thing: we held on, we learned, and we got better every time.”
Following the news, Labour’s shadow home secretary said it is now “even more urgent” stricter border controls are imposed on France.
“It’s reckless and unacceptable for only 1% of international arrivals to quarantine in a hotel,” said Nick Thomas-Symonds.
Courtesy of Sky News
7 die at Spanish care home after getting Pfizer Covid-19 jab as ALL residents test positive for virus, second doses still to come
All 78 residents at a nursing home in central Spain have tested positive for Covid-19 after being given their first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, and at least seven people have died, staff confirmed on Monday.
Most of those who succumbed to the virus had existing conditions, according to Spanish news agency EFE, while four residents are currently hospitalized, and 12 staff have also been infected.
The huge outbreak is at the Lagartera Residence for the Elderly in the Toledo area, southwest of the capital Madrid.
The home’s 33 staff must now present a negative PCR test before they start work, and a spokesperson said that health measures to contain the spread of the virus are in place “at all times.”
“On January 13, all residents, including nursing home staff, were vaccinated with the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine, and after six days the first symptoms began to appear in ten of the residents,” they said in a statement.
Some members of staff began to go off sick with the virus five days after being inoculated.
On January 21, management approved the decision to test all residents of the home and quarantine them to their rooms, with families informed of the move.
The testing results, on January 25, showed that all the residents had caught the virus apart from one, who then also tested positive at a later date.
In December, Spain’s Supreme Court ordered an investigation into deaths at nursing homes, which were a disturbing feature of the early pandemic, making up 69 percent of all Covid-19 fatalities between April 6 and June 20.
The Lagartera Residence for the Elderly insisted the current outbreak was its first of the pandemic, having remained virus-free during the first two waves of infections.
The next doses of the vaccine are to be administered at the home on February 3, and the next round of PCR tests will be carried out on February 5.
Across Spain, almost 1.5 million people have been injected with either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine.
More than 58,000 people have died from Covid-19 in Spain and the country has registered more than 2.7 million cases of the virus in total.
Courtesy of rt.com