Europe begins summer under the specter of Covid-19

The arrival of summer rhymes again this year in Europe with an increase in Covid-19 cases this year. The Covid-19 epidemic is driven by new sub-variants of Omicron, which are prompting calls for vigilance. “There, it is very clearly an epidemic resumption which is linked to the arrival of new variants of the Omicron family, which are called BA.4 and BA.5”, assured this Wednesday on France Info infectious disease specialist Anne-Claude Crémieux. In one week, the number of new cases in France has actually jumped by almost 50%, with circulation of SARS-CoV-2 which has accelerated over the past ten days in mainland France, and a rate of contamination now at over 44,000 cases (averaged over seven days).

For his part, Alain Fischer estimated on France 2 that the return of the compulsory mask in transport “was seriously discussed”. “Personally – because it’s not my field of action – I think that in public transport, it’s probably reasonable. Certainly for fragile people and probably for the whole population because it is a collective protection measure, and by making the small effort to wear the mask, we help to protect fragile people, ”added the President of the Council. orientation of the vaccine strategy.

Rise of cases in Europe

Many European countries have also been confronted for a few weeks with a new acceleration of contaminations. First affected, Portugal experienced a marked increase in new cases in May, which peaked in early June at nearly 30,000 contagions per day. The wave has since started to recede.

In the UK, daily infections are again near their highest since the start of the pandemic. Also affected, Italy recorded 30,526 new cases in 24 hours (from Saturday to Sunday), with an increase of 63.4% in 7 days, according to the latest report from the Ministry of Health. Germany suffered the same fate.

New sub-variants

As explained by the infectiologist Anne-Claude Crémieux, the recovery is explained by the arrival of new sub-lineages of Omicron. BA.4 and especially BA.5 spread all the more rapidly as they seem to benefit from a double advantage of contagiousness and immune escape. An “immune decline”, that is to say that “the protection conferred by an infection or a dose of vaccine decreases over time”, also explains this recovery according to Mircea T. Sofonea, lecturer in epidemiology at the Montpellier University.

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“We are facing a continual evolution of the virus, which encounters people who already have antibodies – because they have been infected before or vaccinated – and who must have a selective advantage to manage to sneak in”, deciphers for his part Olivier Schwartz, Director of the Virus and Immunity Unit at the Institut Pasteur. “BA.5, and to a lesser extent BA.4, is spreading in Europe,” he adds. However “epidemiological data show that it would be 10% more contagious than BA.2, this is the reason why it takes over”.

Towards an increase in hospitalizations?

The European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) ruled in mid-June that, based on still limited data, “there is no evidence that BA.4 and BA.5 are associated with increased severity of infection compared to the circulating variants BA.1 and BA.2”.

However, as in previous waves, an overall increase in Covid-19 cases can lead to increased hospitalizations, critical care admissions and deaths, the Center has warned. In France, the “moderate epidemic recovery” in recent weeks (the number of cases has more than doubled in three weeks) “is accompanied by a small resumption of hospitalizations” and risks leading to “a staggered increase over time” admissions to critical care and deaths, noted Professor Alain Fischer on Tuesday. “Nothing dramatic will happen in the intensive care units of hospitals”, for his part, reassured the German virologist Klaus Stöhr.

New measures for the summer?

The ECDC called on European countries to “remain vigilant”, maintaining testing and surveillance systems. “It is expected that additional booster doses (of vaccine) will be needed for groups most at risk of severe disease, in anticipation of future waves,” he said.

Some countries have already announced new measures. Italy thus decided in mid-June to extend the obligation to wear FFP2 masks on public transport (except on planes) until September 30. “I want to continue to recommend protecting yourself by doing the second booster of the anti-Covid vaccine”, especially for those most at risk, recommended the Minister of Health Roberto Speranza, currently positive.

The German president of the World Medical Association, Frank Ulrich Montgomery, has advocated the rapid adoption of a “toolbox” with mask, vaccination and limitation of contacts. In France, the government this week called on the oldest to receive the second booster vaccine “as soon as possible”, against a backdrop of “moderate epidemic recovery”. A quarter of eligible people have received their second booster vaccine against Covid-19, a “clearly insufficient” rate, underlines the government.

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