The European summer holidays are starting to heat up, but the continent is “walking on thin ice”, to use the expression chosen by German Prime Minister Angela Merkel, in reference to the expansion of the delta variant.
The mutant, whose infectivity is at least twice that of the original Sars-Cov-2, took only a month to become dominant in the UK, the first European country to reach, in April .
Then, he crossed the Channel and is today in all countries followed by the WHO (World Health Organization) in Europe.
Experts predict that the delta variant could account for 70% of new cases in Europe in August and 90% in September, making the season ahead even darker.
The risk is “a deadly resurgence in the fall” according to regional director Hans Kluge. It highlights the combination of a more contagious variant and greater human interaction: 36 of the 53 countries tracked by the entity lifted the restrictions earlier this month.
The liberation of tourist travel filled airports, planes and trains, and big events took place again. Over the past two weeks, the Cannes Film Festival has gathered 28,000 admissions, not to mention the thousands of pedestrians who have flocked to the sidewalks in the hope of seeing celebrities.
According to a report released on Wednesday (21) by the WHO, the number of new cases on the continent, which began to rise in early July, jumped 21% last week, although the absolute number is well lower than the peak. pandemic.
Hospital admissions and deaths remain under control, but Kluge says this apparent lull could be an illusion.
“We’ve been here before. Last summer, cases started to increase in younger people and from there to older people, leading to devastating loss of life in the fall and winter. We can’t make that mistake again, ”he said.
Access to vaccines is a fundamental difference between 2020 and 2021, but the percentage of Europeans who are fully vaccinated is still far from certain: on average, only 20% have taken all the recommended doses.
“We have seen evidence of immune breakout, especially after a single dose of vaccine. Our assessment is that this poses a significant risk in terms of transmission in the community, ”said Katy Smallwood, WHO-Europe emergency manager.
The current situation in the UK shows that this is not overdone. The most advanced European nation in terms of vaccination, the country has already administered the two doses to nearly 70% of its adults. Still, the number of cases and the number of deaths have been on the rise since the government began lifting anti-pandemic restrictions.
In the past four weeks, weekly diagnoses have tripled among Britons and deaths have more than doubled. The UK was the deputy world leader in new weekly cases, with nearly 300,000 and a maximum of 41%, very close to Indonesia, which is going through a health crisis.
Despite this, the government maintained “Freedom Day” on Monday, allowing the almost total reopening, including nightclubs.
Last week, science advisers warned British Prime Minister Boris Johnson of the risk that the NHS (public health system) would be overwhelmed by the end of August.
In scientists’ calculations, the current rate of the pandemic could drop from around 800 hospitalizations per day to 2,000 by the end of next month, with up to 200 deaths per day.
As the UK moves forward with its reopening, Greece, Portugal, Spain and France are starting to reimpose restrictions.
The most glaring case is that of the Netherlands, where the number of new daily cases has multiplied by seven. Last Saturday, the government reimposed a curfew for cafes and bars and banned nightclubs.
Much of Portugal and the Spanish region of Catalonia have also adopted deadlines to restrict overnight travel.
Mandatory use of masks and curfews have been adopted in southwestern France and Corsica, and President Emmanuel Macron has announced that it will be mandatory to present a full vaccination certificate to frequent restaurants, cafes, cinemas, theaters and shopping centers, as well as public transport.
The new rules have triggered an increase in vaccine supplies, but also a wave of street protests, and the government may be forced to reduce fines and relax some restrictions.
Even in Germany, where the pandemic is at a much slower pace, the health ministry has maintained a ban on meetings of more than 10 people for people not fully immunized. The government has also said that the lifting of restrictions at the national level will depend on the progress of vaccination.