Covid-19: ‘We have entered the fourth wave’, says Italy’s watchdog

Covid-related deaths and new infections have risen so much in the past seven days that Italy's independent think tank has confirmed the country has now entered a fourth wave of the coronavirus.

Covid-19: 'We have entered the fourth wave', says Italy's watchdog

Cases, admissions and deaths due to Covid-19 are increasing again, according to a new report published on Thursday by Italy’s independent health watchdog, the GIMBE Foundation.

“The number of new weekly cases continues to rise, but they are underestimated due to insufficient testing and the failure to resume contact tracing,” said Nino Cartabellotta, the GIMBE President.

“The virus is circulating more than is documented by the new cases identified – we have in fact entered the fourth wave,” he added.

READ ALSO: Italy says 99 percent of Covid deaths weren’t fully vaccinated

After 15 weeks of decline, deaths have started to increase once more, as the number has increased by 46 percent over the past seven days, rising to 111 from 76 of the previous week.

That makes an average of 16 deaths per day compared to 11 in the week before.

The independent monitoring report also revealed a hike in new cases of 65 percent over the previous week, increasing to 31,963 compared to 19,390.

The study recorded a 42.9 percent increase in people in isolation, a 34.9 percent increase in admissions with symptoms and a 14.5 percent increase in intensive care.

(Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP)

During the week of July 21st – 27th, compared with the previous week, there was a percentage increase in the number of new cases in all the regions except Molise, the findings showed.

The regions showing the greatest increase in new cases was Friuli Venezia Giulia (+202 percent), Valle D’Aosta (+175 percent) and Tuscany (+128 percent).

And in 40 provinces, the incidence exceeded 50 cases per 100,000 inhabitants – that was previously the threshold in which a region would automatically move into the low-moderate risk ‘yellow zone’.

Three provinces recorded more than 150 cases per 100,000 inhabitants: Caltanissetta in Sicily (272), Cagliari in Sardinia (257) and Ragusa in Sicily (193).

Hospital admissions rose slightly too, revealing the effects of the Delta variant.

“After the first signs of recovery recorded last week, there is confirmation of a slight increase in admissions, which document the hospital impact of increased viral circulation,” said Renata Gili, head of Health Services Research at the GIMBE.

Covid-19: Italy says whole population will be vaccinated by end of September

The number of beds occupied by Covid patients has risen from 1,088 on July 16th to 1,611 on July 27th.

Intensive care also noted an increase, as “daily admissions to intensive care continue to grow slowly,” according to  Marco Mosti, Operational Director of the GIMBE Foundation.

The figure rose from 151 on July 14th to 189 on July 27th, although the percentages of hospital occupancy on a national level remain very low – at 3 percent for general admissions and 2 percent for intensive care.

(Photo by Marco Bertorello / AFP)

On the question of vaccines, the study noted that as of Wednesday there were some 69,253,968 doses delivered.

A peak of deliveries was recorded between June 28th and July 4th but the weekly supplies of around 2.6 million doses dropped to 2.5 million last week.

“The timing of the delivery of more than 45 million doses planned for the third quarter remains uncertain, and as in the previous two quarters, they could be concentrated at the end of September,” stated Cartabellotta.

He noted that an irregular delivery schedule “is a major obstacle to planning the vaccination campaign”.

This could thwart government predictions that the whole of Italy will be fully vaccinated by the end of September, following news of an extra million Pfizer doses, scheduled to arrive in Italy in the middle of August.

More than 58 percent of the Italian population over 12 years old are now vaccinated, according to the latest government figures, making up some 31.4 million people.

AstraZeneca is used almost exclusively for booster shots, the report found.

The number of single shot Johnson & Johnson is now “meagre” – in the last week just under 4,000 doses were administered per day compared to over 944,000 “in the fridge”.

Among the over 60s, 88.5 percent have received at least the first dose of vaccine, with a very slight national weekly increase (+0.5 percent).

However, there are stark regional differences with Puglia reaching 93.6 percent, while Sicily is behind at 80.1 percent.

On average, around one in ten (11.5 percent) of over-60s in Italy are yet to receive a single dose.

At the other end of the scale, the limited availability of mRNA vaccines, which includes the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, “hinders the possibility of a massive vaccination of the under-60s”, according to the study.

READ ALSO: Italy expects to vaccinate 60 percent of over-12s by end of July

Of the more than 4.5 million people between 12 and 19 years old, one in six (14.7 percent), or some 670,000 have completed the vaccination cycle and almost 765,000 (16.8 percent) have only received the first dose, the findings showed.

Therefore, in this age group, over two thirds (68.5 percent), are still totally uncovered.

There are significant regional differences too, ranging from 85.9 percent unvaccinated in Umbria to 61.4 percent in Abruzzo.

The report noted that if the priority is getting everyone back to school in 100 percent presence – with the government considering making vaccinations mandatory for teachers, then “focusing solely on vaccination coverage is risky”.

No vaccine in Italy is currently available for children under 12.

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Germany’s weekly Covid infection rate rises above 500

Germany recorded a weekly Covid incidence of more than 500 per 100,000 people on Monday as health experts warn that the fifth wave of the pandemic has only just begun.

Bar in Berlin's Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg district, which has the highest incidence in the country.
People sit outside bars in the Berlin district of Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg, where incidences are currently the highest in the country. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Christophe Gateau

On Monday, the 7-day incidence of Covid infections per 100,000 people stood at 528, up from 515 the day before and 376 a week ago. 

Infections have been rising rapidly as the highly transmissible Omicron variant tightens its hold in Germany. Monday marked the fourth day in a row in which the country posted record incidences.

Since the first incidence of the variant was discovered in the country around seven weeks ago, Omicron has swiftly taken over as the dominant variant in Germany.

It currently accounts for around 73 percent of Covid infections and is expected to almost entirely replace the Delta variant this week. 

Though Omicron generally causes a less severe illness than Delta, experts are concerned that deaths and hospitalisations could remain high due to the unprecedented number of cases Germany could see.

Unlike Delta, Omicron has a large number of mutations that allow it to evade previously built up immunity through vaccinations and illness. 

The World Health Organisation has warned that half of all Europeans could be infected with the virus by spring. 

“After the temporary decline in case numbers, severe disease courses and deaths towards the end of 2021 in the fourth wave, the fifth wave of the Covid-19 pandemic has begun in Germany with the dominant circulation of the omicron variant,” the Robert Koch Institute wrote in its weekly report on Thursday.  

Since the first Omicron case was discovered in Germany, there have been 191,422 suspected or proven cases of the variant.

As Welt data journalist Olaf Gersemann pointed out in Twitter, the number of Omicron cases has increased sixfold within a fortnight. 

Increase in hospitalisations

Before this weekend, Germany had hit its previous peak of infections back in November, when the country posted a 7-day incidence of 485 per 100,000 people at during the peak of the fourth wave.

Since then, Covid measures such contact restrictions and blanket 2G (entry only for the vaccinated and recovered) or 2G-plus (vaccinated or recovered with a negative test) have been relatively effective at turning the tide. 


For the past few weeks however, infections have been on the up once again as the Omicron fifth wave begins.

The incidence of hospitalisations in the country appears to also be on the rise again after a few weeks of decline. On Friday, the 7-day incidence of hospitalisations stood at 3.24 per 100,000 people, up from 3.13 the day before.

Over the weekend, Health Minister Karl Lauterbach warned that Omicron could place additional pressure on the general hospital wards as fewer people end up in intensive care. 

“Depending on how things develop, we may face shortages not only in the intensive care units, but also in the normal wards. There is a threat of entire departments being closed,” he said.

“Rapid spread of the virus would mean hundreds of thousands will become seriously ill and we will have to mourn many thousands of deaths again.” 

Karl Lauterbach

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) speaks at a weekly press conference on Friday, January 14th. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Kay Nietfeld

Northern states post record incidences

Since the start of the Omicron wave, northern Germany has been disproportionately affected by the virus.

As of Monday, the city-state of Bremen had the highest incidence in the country, with 1389 new cases per 100,000 people recorded in a week.

This was followed by Berlin, which currently has a 7-day incidence of 948, and Hamburg, which recorded a 7-day incidence of 806. The district with the highest incidence in Berlin Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg, which posted a weekly incidence of 1597 on Monday. 

In contrast to the fourth wave, the lowest Covid incidences were recorded in the eastern states of Thuringia, Saxony-Anhalt and Saxony. 

On Monday, Thuringia had a weekly incidence of 198 per 100,000 people, while Saxony’s incidence was 249 and Saxony-Anhalt’s was 280.

Somewhat inexplicably, the incidence has been declining in Thuringia in recent weeks, though there is speculation that this could be to do with the fact that Omicron has not yet spread in the state.

Nine of the sixteen German states have incidences of more than 500 per 100,000 people.