SHARE
COPY LINK

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
An illustration photo of a positive Covid-19 rapid antigen test. Photo: JUSTIN SULLIVAN / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP

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.

Member comments

  1. I just recovered from COVID …. I am completely vaccinated with the two doses and 1 booster shot …. I was scheduled for my 2nd booster in July (6 months after my first booster) but that has been canceled …. I have not had my blood tested to see if I now have the COVID antibody … Am I still eligible for the second booster shot ? Do I have to wait another 6 months before the second booster shot ? Does, having had COVID now preclude me from booster shots ?

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.

COVID-19 LATEST

First German states scrap face masks on public transport

Bavaria and Saxony-Anhalt will drop the mask requirement on public transport and other German states could soon follow.

First German states scrap face masks on public transport

On Monday, German state health ministers met to discuss how to go proceed with Covid regulations this winter. But with regards to wearing masks on public transport, they were unable to reach an agreement.

As a result, on Tuesday, the states of Saxony-Anhalt and Bavaria announced that they will get rid of the mask requirement in local public transport.

From Thursday, people in Saxony-Anhalt can ride buses and trains without masks – from Saturday in Bavaria. The cabinets of the two states justified their decisions on the basis of “a stable Covid infection situation”.

As of Tuesday, the 7-day Covid incidence – the number of new cases per 100,000 people – was 204.2 in the whole of Germany. In Bavaria, the 7-day incidence was 107.9 and 246.5 in Saxony-Anhalt.

READ ALSO: Two German states stop enforcing mandatory Covid-19 isolation

Bavaria’s Health Minister Klaus Holetschek said that a mask requirement for Covid protection is no longer proportionate. Instead, the Bavarian government will recommend people continue wearing masks, rather than obliging them to do so.

Bavarian state leader Markus Söder wrote on Twitter: “The infection situation has been stable for a long time.”

Saxony-Anhalt will also rely on voluntary mask-wearing in local public transport and the obligation will be dispensed with on Thursday, December 8th.  

Will more states follow?

Germany’s most northern state of Schleswig-Holstein plans to decide in the next week on whether or not to end the mask obligation on local transport. Prime Minister Daniel Günther already said recently that his aim was not to extend the mask obligation, which is limited until the end of the year.

However, the state governments of North Rhine-Westphalia, Hesse, Baden-Württemberg, Saarland and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania made clear on Tuesday that they intend to keep the mask requirement in place for the time being.

What about masks on long-distance transport?

One of the only Covid measures that have been in place nationwide this winter, is the requirement that passengers on long-distance transport still wear face masks. Under the current law, this will remain in place until April 2023.

However, the head of the rail and transport union (EVG), Martin Burkert, spoke out in favour of doing away with the mask requirement on long-distance trains as well.

READ ALSO: German opposition leader calls for official end to pandemic next year

“No one can understand anymore why masks are still mandatory on long-distance trains,” Burkert said.

“If the regulation is retained, there need to be checks by the federal police, not by railroad staff. While the federal states can decide for themselves whether masks are compulsory on local trains, the federal government is responsible for long-distance trains.”

SHOW COMMENTS