The number of new cases of Covid-19 increased again in Europe after six weeks of decline, which led the World Health Organization (WHO) to raise a new warning on Thursday (4) against the uncontrolled easing preventive measures against contagion.
The 31 countries tracked by the European Center for Disease Control (ECDC) recorded 1.093 million new infections in the eighth week of the year, a 12% increase from the previous seven days. If we consider 51 European countries and territories monitored by the WHO, the increase was 9%, also breaking a series of six consecutive falls.
According to the director of the organization’s European section, Hans Kluge, the resumption of transmission is of concern mainly in countries in the central and eastern regions of the continent, but countries in Western Europe – where rates were already high – also show a tendency to recover from contagion.
“After a year of pandemic, our health systems, our hospitals and our professionals should not be under a situation of continuous pressure,” he said. The development of the pandemic in Europe has been quite uneven, with countries keeping numbers under control since the start of the pandemic, such as Denmark and Finland, while others have experienced a few months of relief, such as France, the United Kingdom and Spain.
Some of the countries most affected by the first wave, such as Italy, contained the second relatively better. In contrast, countries that had emerged as models in mid-2020 collapsed earlier this year, such as Portugal.
Kluge reiterated the guidelines that countries should step up basic measures such as testing, contact tracing and isolation and increase surveillance for more contagious variants of Sars-Cov-2.
The mutant coronavirus identified in the UK, B.117, has already been detected in all major European countries. The South African variant, B.1.351, has already been found in 26 countries and P.1, identified in Brazil, is now in 15. Health authorities have warned of the need to monitor and contain these mutants because there are indications that they are less sensitive to the vaccines currently in use.
Kluge also recommended that countries speed up their immunization programs – 6 of the 51 countries in the region have yet to start immunizing their populations. While Israel has already applied 97 doses per 100 inhabitants, in Europe the most advanced country, the United Kingdom, reached one third (32/100), followed by Serbia, with 22/100.
Most countries in Europe, however, administered less than 10 doses per 100 inhabitants, including the three largest countries in the European Union, Germany (8.1), France (7.1) and Italy (7.9). In the average of the 40 countries monitored by the WHO, according to Kluge, only 1.9% of the population and 24.5% of health professionals received the two necessary doses.
European vaccination campaigns have faced several types of problems, such as lack of vaccines, planning errors, regulatory delays and communication failures.
The manufacturers of the three immunizers already approved for use in the EU – AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Moderna – halted supplies expected this semester, prompting Hungary and Slovakia to purchase vaccines from Russia.
In addition, of the 42.7 million doses already sent to member countries, 12 million (27%) have not yet been used, due to various failures. According to Kluge, the pandemic “has worsened and clarified gender inequalities” – most medical professionals, women are at higher risk of contracting the disease. He also called on governments to strengthen prevention, early detection and fight against domestic violence.