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COVID-19 STATS

Covid cases on the rise in Europe once again as WHO warns of Euro 2020 risk

The World Health Organization on Thursday said Covid cases were on the rise again in Europe and called for better monitoring of the movement of spectators attending Euro 2020 football matches.

Covid cases on the rise in Europe once again as WHO warns of Euro 2020 risk
Germany supporters react after England scored during the UEFA EURO 2020 round of 16 football match between England and Germany at the Grugapark in Essen, western Germany, on June 29, 2021. Ina Fassbender / AFP

“There will be a new wave in the WHO European Region unless we remain disciplined,” WHO’s regional director for Europe, Hans Kluge, told a press conference.

Noting that cases had declined for 10 weeks in the WHO’s European region, Kluge said that “last week, the number of cases rose by 10 percent, driven by increased mixing, travel, gatherings and easing of social restrictions.”

Kluge cautioned this reversal came in the context of rising cases of the Delta variant, first spotted in India, which the regional director said “overtakes Alpha very quickly,” referring to the variant that first emerged in Britain.

A report by the EU’s disease control agency ECDC estimated the more contagious Delta variant could account for 90 percent of new cases in the EU by the end of August.

Kluge also said that the Delta variant could become the dominant strain in WHO’s European region, which is made up by 53 countries and territories — including several in Central Asia — by August.

However, by then, “the region will not be fully vaccinated,” Kluge said.

Around 63 percent of people “are still waiting for their first jab”, he said, even though the region “will still be mostly restriction-free” by that point.

Vaccines have been shown to also protect against the Delta variant, but a high level of protection requires two doses.

Kluge said that the average vaccine coverage in the WHO’s European region was 24 percent, but half of elderly people and 40 percent of healthcare workers were still unprotected.

“That is unacceptable, and that is far from the recommended 80 percent coverage of the adult population,” Kluge said.

‘Super-spreader’

Asked about whether the Euro championship was potentially acting as a “super-spreader” event, Kluge replied: “I hope not… but this can’t be excluded.”

The UN organisation called for better monitoring of spectators, including before they arrive and after they leave stadiums.

“We need to look much beyond just the stadia themselves,” Catherine Smallwood, Senior Emergency Officer at WHO’s European office, said when asked about recommendations in the face of rising cases in London and Saint Petersburg.

The British capital is due to host the semi-finals and final of the tournament next week, while the Russian city will host the quarter-final between Switzerland and Spain on Friday.

Azerbaijan’s capital Baku will host the game between Denmark and the Czech Republic on Saturday.

Hundreds of cases have been detected among spectators attending Euro matches, including Scots returning from London, Finns returning from Saint Petersburg and carriers of the more contagious Delta variant in Copenhagen.

“What we need to look at is around the stadia. How are people getting there? Are they travelling in large crowded convoys of buses? Are they taking individual measures when they are doing that?” Smallwood said.

She also added that it was also important to look at what was happening after the games, for instance if fans gathered in crowded bars.

“Should this mixing happen, there will be cases,” she said.

The WHO also called for vigilance around all major summer gatherings, not just around football games.

“What we know is that in a context of increasing transmission, large mass gatherings can act as amplifiers in terms of transmission,” Smallwood said.

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COVID-19

OUTLOOK: Could Switzerland introduce Covid rules this autumn?

After several months of a relatively low number of coronavirus cases in Switzerland, the rate of infections rose by over 22 percent in a span of seven days this week. What measures are Swiss health officials planning to prevent a new wave?

OUTLOOK: Could Switzerland introduce Covid rules this autumn?

The Swiss government has said that “further waves of infections are to be expected in the fall/winter of 2022/2023″.

As in previous waves, “the main objective of managing the pandemic is to prevent an overload of the health system. It is currently difficult to predict the magnitude of the waves of infection and, therefore, the burden on the healthcare system”, it added.

According to current estimates, “it can be assumed that ordinary structures will be sufficient to manage the situation”.

However, unless new, deadly variants emerge in the near future, health officials  expect the new wave to be milder than the ones  that struck in the winter of 2020 and 2021.

There are several reasons for this optimism:

Higher immunity

Due to vaccinations and infections, “it is estimated that 97 percent of the Swiss population has been in contact with the virus”, which means that “immunity within the population is currently high”, authorities said.

Lighter course

This means that unlike the early Covid strains like Alpha and Delta, which were highly virulent, the latest dominant mutation — Omicron and its subvariants — while highly contagious, are also less dangerous for most people.

New vaccines

The new version of the Moderna vaccine, which should better target certain sub-variants of Omicron, will be rolled in Switzerland from October 10th.

Compared to the original vaccine, which was effective mostly against early strains and offered no protection against Omicron, “the new vaccine produces a stronger immune response against the Omicron variants BA.1 and BA.4/5″, according to the drug regulatory body, Swissmedic.

READ MORE: BREAKING: Switzerland approves new Covid-19 boosters

Is the government planning any specific measures this winter?

While the severity of the new wave is not yet known, authorities have made several ‘just-in-case’ provisions by, for instance, extending the Covid-19 law until June 2024.

This legislation, which was approved in a referendum in November 2021, allows the Federal Council to maintain and apply emergency measures that are necessary to manage the pandemic. Without the extension, ithe law would lapse in December of this year.

READ MORE: Covid-19 law: How Switzerland reacted to the referendum results

“No one wants to reactivate the Covid law. But after two years of the pandemic, we have understood that we must be ready”, said MP Mattea Meyer.

While no mask mandates or other restrictions are being discussed at this time, the re-activated legislation would allow the authorities to quickly introduce any measures they deem necessary, according to the evolution of the epidemiological situation.

More preparations from the cantons

As it would be up to the cantons to apply measures set by the federal government, some have asked that financing be made available in case regional hospitals have to again accommodate patients from other cantons.

They are also making sure enough intensive care beds are ready for Covid patients.

What about the Covid certificate and tracing?

Though it is no longer used in Switzerland, the certificate continues to be required abroad.

The government will ensure its international compatibility.

The legal basis for the SwissCovid tracking app will also remain in force and can be reactivated during the winter of 2023/2024, if necessary.

MPs are also debating possible rules to be enforced for cross-border workers in the event of border closures.

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