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COVID-19 STATS

Why Europe could be headed for pandemic ‘endgame’

The Omicron variant has moved the Covid-19 pandemic into a new phase and could bring it to an end in Europe, the WHO Europe director said on Monday.

People queue outside a pharmacy to receive Covid-19 antigenic tests
People queue outside a pharmacy to receive Covid-19 antigenic tests on January 10, 2022 in Marseille, southern France, as Covid-19 cases soar in Europe. (Photo by Nicolas TUCAT / AFP)

“It’s plausible that the region is moving towards a kind of pandemic endgame,” Hans Kluge told AFP in an interview, adding that Omicron could infect 60 percent of Europeans by March.

In a statement on Monday he added: “We are entering a new phase, driven by the highly transmissible Omicron variant sweeping Europe, from west to east.”

Once the current surge of Omicron sweeping across Europe subsides, “there will be for quite some weeks and months a global immunity, either thanks to the vaccine or because people have immunity due to the infection, and also lowering seasonality”.

“We anticipate that there will be a period of quiet before Covid-19 may come back towards the end of the year, but not necessarily the pandemic coming back,” Kluge said.

“The pandemic is far from over, but I am hopeful we can end the emergency phase in 2022 and address other health threats that urgently require our attention.”

 

Top US scientist Anthony Fauci expressed similar optimism on Sunday, telling ABC News talk show “This Week” that with Covid-19 cases coming down “rather sharply” in parts of the United States, “things are looking good”.

While cautioning against over confidence, he said that if the recent fall in case numbers in areas like the US’s northeast continued, “I believe that you will start to see a turnaround throughout the entire country”.

The WHO regional office for Africa also said last week that cases of Covid had plummeted in that region and deaths were declining for the first time since the Omicron-dominated fourth wave of the virus reached its peak.

‘Other variants could emerge’

The Omicron variant, which studies have shown is more contagious than Delta but generally leads to less severe infection among vaccinated people, has raised long-awaited hopes that Covid-19 is starting to shift from a pandemic to a more manageable endemic illness like seasonal flu.

But Kluge cautioned that it was still too early to consider Covid-19 endemic.

“There is a lot of talk about endemic but endemic means … that it is possible to predict what’s going to happen. This virus has surprised (us) more than once so we have to be very careful,” Kluge said.

With Omicron spreading so widely, other variants could still emerge, he warned.

The European Commissioner for Internal Markets, Thierry Breton, whose brief includes vaccine production, said Sunday that it will be possible to adapt existing vaccines to any new variants that may emerge.

“We will be able to better resist, including to new variants”, he told French television LCI.

“We will be ready to adapt the vaccines, especially the mRNA ones, if necessary to adapt them to more virulent variants”.

In the WHO Europe region, which comprises 53 countries including several in Central Asia, Omicron now accounts for 31.8% of cases across the European Region, up from 15% the previous week, and 6.3% the week before that. 

Omicron is now the dominant variant in the European Union and the European Economic Area (EEA, or Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein), the EU health agency ECDC said last week.

Impact on Europe

Because of the very fast spread of the variant across Europe, Kluge said emphasis ought to be on “minimising disruption of hospitals, schools and the economy, and putting huge efforts on protecting the vulnerable”, rather than measures to stop transmission.

He meanwhile urged people to exercise personal responsibility.

“If you don’t feel well, stay home, take a self test. If you’re positive, isolate”, he said.

Kluge said the priority was to stabilise the situation in Europe, where vaccination levels range across countries from 25 to 95 percent of the population, leading to varying degrees of strain on hospitals and health-care system.

“Stabilising means that the health system is no longer overwhelmed due to Covid-19 and can continue with the essential health services, which have unfortunately been really disrupted for cancer, cardiovascular disease, and routine immunisation”.

Asked whether fourth doses would be necessary to bring an end to the pandemic, Kluge was cautious, saying only that “we know that that immunity jumps up after each shot of the vaccine”.

The pandemic has so far killed nearly 5.6 million million people worldwide, according to official figures compiled by AFP, 1.7 million of them in Europe.

Kluge said: “Every single hour since the pandemic’s onset, 99 people in the Region have lost their lives to COVID-19.

“We mourn the more than 1.7 million people in the European Region who are no longer with us. Gains in poverty reduction have been reversed, with more than 4 million people in the Region now pushed under the 5.50 USD a day poverty line. Children’s education and mental well-being have suffered immensely.”

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COVID-19 STATS

Is Germany heading into next Covid wave?

Covid-19 infections in Germany had been dropping in recent weeks, but cases appear to be picking up again as autumn arrives. Here's a look at the current situation.

Is Germany heading into next Covid wave?

Autumn has officially arrived in Germany, and with it the temperatures have been falling. 

So perhaps it’s no surprise that more people are getting sick – and Covid cases seem to be rising. 

According to the Robert Koch Institute’s (RKI) latest report, the nationwide 7-day incidence of Covid cases per 100,000 people climbed by 11 percent compared to the week before. 

The largest increase in Covid infections was in the 50 to 84-year-old age group, the report said. 

The incidence calculation is based on laboratory tests, although these are now being carried out less frequently than in previous phases of the pandemic.

But the RKI has also recorded slight increases in the estimates of those who have contracted Covid-19, and in the number of visits to doctors for this reason.

Furthermore, the number of reported Covid outbreaks in medical facilities and nursing homes has increased. A few days ago, the Association of Accredited Laboratories in Medicine (ALM) spoke of a trend reversal in its evaluation of PCR tests. Test numbers in specialist laboratories have risen again for the first time in months, they said. 

According to the weekly report, there is no sign yet of a resurgence in serious Covid-19 cases in hospitals and intensive care units. 

“The data show that the number of severe illnesses due to Covid-19 has stabilised at a plateau,” said the RKI. 

The 7-day incidence on Friday September 23rd was 294.7 Covid cases per 100,000 people. There were 50,800 confirmed cases in the latest 24 hour period, and 93 deaths. 

Germany has seen six Covid waves

Experts say the Omicron subtype BA.5 continues to account for the vast majority of cases (around 96 percent) in Germany. The RKI says the BA.2.75 subtype, which is under surveillance due to increased global spread, has been detected around 80 times in Germany. More than half of these detections come from the most recent weeks of variant evaluation (August 29th to September 11th). However, only a very small proportion of all positive samples are examined for this.

The RKI said it will only be possible to say whether this is the beginnings of a new wave after more analysis. 

In another RKI publication from Thursday, health experts said the country has seen six waves over the course of the pandemic in Germany so far.

According to the retroactive classification, the sixth wave began in June, and an end date has not yet been defined. Since a renewed increase in respiratory illnesses is to be expected due to the time of year, the impact of Covid cannot be accurately estimated at present, scientists said. 

The paper also emphasises that cases of severe illness are becoming more prominent in assessing the level of risk, “while the sheer number of infections is nowhere near as important as it was at the beginning of the pandemic”. 

New Covid-19 rules are coming into Germany from October 1st. They include a requirement to wear masks on long-distance trains and buses, but they will no longer be mandatory on planes. 

States can decide on several rules, including whether masks have to be worn on local public transport. So far, states have indicated that they will continue to enforce the mask mandate on buses, trains and trams. 

READ ALSO: Germany’s new Covid-19 rules from October

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