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COVID-19 STATS

Europe tops 100 million Covid cases

Europe has recorded over 100 million coronavirus cases, more than a third of all infections worldwide, since the start of the pandemic, an AFP tally Saturday showed.

Health workers stands near a Covid-19 rapid antigen testing area near The Eiffel Tower in Paris.
Health workers stands near a Covid-19 rapid antigen testing area near The Eiffel Tower in Paris. France alone has recorded over one million new cases over the past week. BERTRAND GUAY / AFP

The continent has once again become the pandemic’s epicentre in recent months, and is battling an upsurge of cases spurred on by the highly transmissible Omicron strain of the virus.

The European region, including 52 countries and territories from the Atlantic coast to Azerbaijan and Russia, has recorded 100,074,753 infections of Covid-19 over the past two years, an AFP tally of official figures showed at 1845 GMT on Saturday.

That is equivalent to more than a third of the 288,279,803 cases declared worldwide since the outbreak of the pandemic in late 2019 in China.

Of the European infections, more than 4.9 million have been reported over the past seven days alone, with 17 out of 52 countries or territories beating their previous record of most cases in a single week.

France alone has recorded more than one million new cases over the past week, which is equivalent to 10 percent of all positive cases it has announced since the start of the pandemic.

The countries with the highest ratio of infections per 100,000 inhabitants in the world were all in Europe. Denmark scored worst with 2,045, followed by Cyprus with 1,969 and Ireland with 1,964.

AFP’s calculations are based on official figures, but some infections could have gone undetected, for example, if patients were asymptomatic.

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Covid-related deaths are, however, decreasing in Europe.

Europe recorded on average 3,413 coronavirus deaths a day over the past week, a seven percent drop from the previous week. At its worst, that average saw 5,735 deaths a day in January last year.

People on the European continent are now, on the whole, more vaccinated than the worldwide average. 

Sixty-five percent of Europeans are partially vaccinated, while 61 percent are fully vaccinated — more than 58 and 49 percent respectively worldwide, according to the “Our World in Data” website.

The below chart from Our World in Data shows the proportion of people who are fully vaccinated in countries covered by The Local.

Taking into account excess mortality linked to Covid-19, the World Health Organisation estimates the overall death toll worldwide could be two to three times higher.

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COVID-19 ALERT

Covid-19: European summer holidays threatened by rise of subvariants

A resurgence of Covid-19 cases in Europe, this time driven by new, fast-spreading Omicron subvariants, is once again threatening to disrupt people's summer plans.

Covid-19: European summer holidays threatened by rise of subvariants

Several Western European nations have recently recorded their highest daily case numbers in months, due in part to Omicron sub-variants BA.4 and BA.5.

The increase in cases has spurred calls for increased vigilance across a continent that has relaxed most if not all coronavirus restrictions.

The first resurgence came in May in Portugal, where BA.5 propelled a wave that hit almost 30,000 cases a day at the beginning of June. That wave has since started to subside, however.

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS: German Health Ministry lays out autumn Covid plan

Italy recorded more than 62,700 cases on Tuesday, nearly doubling the number from the previous week, the health ministry said. 

Germany meanwhile reported more than 122,000 cases on Tuesday. 

France recorded over 95,000 cases on Tuesday, its highest daily number since late April, representing a 45-percent increase in just a week.

Austria this Wednesday recorded more than 10,000 for the first time since April.

READ ALSO: Italy’s transport mask rule extended to September as Covid rate rises

Cases have also surged in Britain, where there has been a seven-fold increase in Omicron reinfection, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The ONS blamed the rise on the BA.4 and BA.5 variants, but also said Covid fell to the sixth most common cause of death in May, accounting for 3.3 percent of all deaths in England and Wales.

BA.5 ‘taking over’

Mircea Sofonea, an epidemiologist at the University of Montpellier, said Covid’s European summer wave could be explained by two factors.

READ ALSO: 11,000 new cases: Will Austria reintroduce restrictions as infection numbers rise?

One is declining immunity, because “the protection conferred by an infection or a vaccine dose decreases in time,” he told AFP.

The other came down to the new subvariants BA.4 and particularly BA.5, which are spreading more quickly because they appear to be both more contagious and better able to escape immunity.

Olivier Schwartz, head of the virus and immunity unit at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, said BA.5 was “taking over” because it is 10 percent more contagious than BA.2.

“We are faced with a continuous evolution of the virus, which encounters people who already have antibodies — because they have been previously infected or vaccinated — and then must find a selective advantage to be able to sneak in,” he said.

READ ALSO: Tourists: What to do if you test positive for Covid in France

But are the new subvariants more severe?

“Based on limited data, there is no evidence of BA.4 and BA.5 being associated with increased infection severity compared to the circulating variants BA.1 and BA.2,” the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) said last week.

But rising cases can result in increasing hospitalisations and deaths, the ECDC warned.

Could masks be making a comeback over summer? (Photo by OSCAR DEL POZO / AFP)

Alain Fischer, who coordinates France’s pandemic vaccine strategy, warned that the country’s hospitalisations had begun to rise, which would likely lead to more intensive care admissions and eventually more deaths.

However, in Germany, virologist Klaus Stohr told the ZDF channel that “nothing dramatic will happen in the intensive care units in hospitals”.

Return of the mask? 

The ECDC called on European countries to “remain vigilant” by maintaining testing and surveillance systems.

“It is expected that additional booster doses will be needed for those groups most at risk of severe disease, in anticipation of future waves,” it added.

Faced with rising cases, last week Italy’s government chose to extend a requirement to wear medical grade FFP2 masks on public transport until September 30.

“I want to continue to recommend protecting yourself by getting a second booster shot,” said Italy’s Health Minister Roberto Speranza, who recently tested positive for Covid.

READ ALSO: Spain to offer fourth Covid-19 vaccine dose to ‘entire population’

Fischer said France had “clearly insufficient vaccination rates” and that a second booster shot was needed.

Germany’s government is waiting on expert advice on June 30 to decide whether to reimpose mandatory mask-wearing rules indoors.

The chairman of the World Medical Association, German doctor Frank Ulrich Montgomery, has recommended a “toolbox” against the Covid wave that includes mask-wearing, vaccination and limiting the number of contacts.

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