COVID-19 is again surging in Western Europe due to a “perfect storm” of governments lifting restrictions, waning immunity, and the more contagious BA.2 Omicron subvariant, experts have said.
After more than a month of falling cases across much of the continent, countries such as Britain, France, Germany, and Italy have all seen a dramatic resurgence of infections in recent days.
In France, cases have risen by more than a third in the week since the government ended most COVID restrictions last Monday.
In Germany, despite a new daily record of nearly 300,000 infections on Friday, the government let national legislation enabling coronavirus restrictions expire over the weekend. Most German states, which have considerable leeway on applying measures, have however maintained the restrictions.
In Italy, the government announced on Thursday it would phase out almost all restrictions by May 1 despite rising cases.
And in Britain, where one in 20 people are currently infected, the government removed the last of its international travel restrictions on Friday.
Faced with its own surging cases, Austria announced last weekend it would reimpose rules requiring FFP2 face masks — just weeks after lifting the measure.
While some have blamed governments for relaxing restrictions too quickly, epidemiologists also pointed the finger at the BA.2 sub-lineage of the Omicron variant which has become dominant in many countries.
Sometimes called “stealth Omicron” because it is more difficult to detect, BA.2 is estimated to be about 30 percent more contagious than its predecessor BA.1.
Lawrence Young, a virologist at Britain’s University of Warwick, said the rising cases in Europe were due to a combination — “a perfect storm” — of three factors: the lifting of restrictions, waning immunity after vaccination and BA.2.
“Removing restrictions has fueled the spread of BA.2 and could also lead to the generation of other variants,” he told AFP.
However, the World Health Organization has warned that new variants were more likely to continue emerging if wealthy nations continue to boost their own citizens ahead of sharing vaccines with countries where many have not received their first dose.
Jean-Francois Delfraissy, president of the French government’s scientific advisory board, has already warned of potential variants.
“We are at the mercy of a new variant which, if we ask the scientist community, could be expected in the autumn… it could happen before then,” he said last week.
“Will it be a more transmissible variant? Will it be more severe? Will it escape the vaccine? Nobody knows.”
Face masks stay
Despite a decline in the number of new coronavirus disease 2019 cases and hospitalizations in the country, President Rodrigo Duterte said he was “not ready” to lift the face mask requirement yet.
In a prerecorded public address aired Tuesday morning, Duterte said he was not keen on relaxing face mask protocol yet because this would reduce the chance of spreading COVID-19.
However, he said he saw no problem doing away with wearing face shields over masks and plastic barriers.
Duterte expressed concern over a new COVID-19 variant detected in Israel, noting that it could eventually reach Philippine shores.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, for his part, agreed that masking should stay as a critical public health tool.
Meanwhile, the Department of the Interior and Local Government said the crackdown on violators of minimum health protocols continues despite the easing of COVID-19 restrictions.
“We can see in the past two weeks, there was a slight rise in the number of arrests of those not wearing face mask, reaching 90,585 and 931 apprehensions were recorded for mass gathering violations and 34,000 were nabbed for the unnecessary violation of no physical distancing,’’ DILG Secretary Eduardo Año told President Duterte.
Año added that the total number of areas under granular lockdowns dropped dramatically due to the continued decrease in the country’s COVID-19 cases.
“We can see there are only a few areas in the country which are underwhat we refer to as granular lockdown. Overall, there are only three cities/municipalities or five barangays that have granular lockdowns.
And seven, seven granular lockdowns and we can see that in NCR there are only two, two households and two individuals are affected,’’ Año said in Filipino.
Keeping numbers low
The Philippines is able to keep its coronavirus disease cases at low risk with a strong immunity wall, National Task Force Against COVID-19 chief, Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr. said Tuesday.
The country’s daily average COVID-19 cases of 510 from March 14 to 20 is 13 percent lower than the new infections in the previous week while only 17.8 percent or 619 out of the 3,473 intensive care unit beds are in use.
In contrast, fellow Asian countries China, Hongkong, South Korea, and Vietnam are experiencing surges.
During the “Talk to the People” report, Galvez said the massive vaccination drive and the continuous Prevent, Detect, Isolation, Treat, Reintegration strategy, especially in the National Capital Region and 47 other areas under Alert Level 1, are keeping cases at bay.
Meanwhile, vector vaccines like the single-dose Janssen and AstraZeneca use a modified version of a virus that is different from the virus being targeted to deliver important instructions to cells.
Sinovac uses inactivated virus particles that have been killed to stimulate our bodies to produce an immune response.
Two other crucial factors were the timely delivery of vaccines while infections were on an upward trend and prioritization of the vulnerable sectors – health care workers (A1), senior citizens (A2), and those with comorbidities (A3).
“We have done the massive vaccination at the time that there were surges and we immediately decided to administer a booster three months after the administration of primary boosters,” Galvez said.
The Department of Health-Center for Health Development CALABARZON (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal, and Quezon) lauded the support of Relief International in partnership with UNICEF in providing innovative strategies in promoting acceptance and uptake of COVID-19 vaccination.
UNICEF-Relief International and the DOH have generated demand for immunization services and increased immunization uptake since Sabayang Patak Kontra Polio and Measles-Rubella Oral Polio Vaccine Supplemental
As the national government rolled out its COVID-19 vaccination in the country, UNICEF-Relief International continued to engage the health workers and eligible population in communicating vaccine safety and effectiveness.
“On behalf of our Regional Director Ariel I. Valencia, we would like to extend our sincerest gratitude to Relief International – UNICEF for the technical support to our health workers, especially in high-risk areas in the region,” DOH Calabarzon Health Education Promotion Officer Head Jeannette N. Atienza said.
The Technical Support Review of Relief International and UNICEF in Laguna was held at El Cielito Hotel, Santa Rosa City, Laguna on March 17, 2022.