The rapidly spreading Omicron subvariants, known as BA.4 and BA.5, are fueling a summer wave of coronavirus in Europe, health officials say, after most Covid policies were repealed in the spring and a more relaxed approach to the pandemic has become the norm during the warmer months.
According to Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Systems Science and Engineering, known cases in Europe rose to 57 cases per 100,000 as of Wednesday, from 33 cases per day per 100,000 just two weeks earlier. That is the strongest increase – an increase of about 70 percent – of any region in the world over the same period.
It comes as the summer travel season is in full swing in European countries, with warmer weather and an easing of coronavirus policies sparking a wave of movement in the region.
BA.4 and BA.5 appear to be able to evade some antibodies from previous infections and vaccines, but research suggests that the subvariants do not appear to cause more severe disease. BA.5 is dominant in its own right among new US cases, according to federal estimates.
dr. Michael Ryan, the executive director of the World Health Organization’s Health Emergencies Program, said on Wednesday that the wave hitting Europe right now could be worse than it looks, pointing to what he called “near testing collapse” that could be the real spread. of the virus.
dr. Ryan added, while many European countries have seen an increase in hospitalizations, “what we’re not seeing is an increase in intensive care admissions, so the vaccines are still working very well.”
While much of the world has dropped mandatory pandemic security measures, a few areas have sometimes changed course. On Friday, the Mediterranean island of Cyprus reinstated indoor mask mandates. And Monday, France’s fifth-largest city, Nice, will require masks on public transport, going beyond the central government’s recommendation. On the other hand, Austria recently rejected a vaccine mandate it never enforced.
Professor Lawrence S. Young, a virologist and professor of molecular oncology at the University of Warwick, told DailyExpertNews he doesn’t think masking restrictions will return in Britain. One exception he sees is in hospitals, many of which have reintroduced the wearing of masks in recent weeks as the number of cases has increased.
For most Britons, Dr. Young that pandemic fatigue has begun. “I think this idea of convincing people to take personal responsibility is not working,” he said.
France and Cyprus join Austria, Britain, Germany, Greece, Italy and Switzerland as hot spots, according to the Our World in Data project at the University of Oxford. On Thursday, Swedish Health Minister Lena Hallengren noted at a press conference that the number of cases was increasing “even though we are in the middle of summer”.
dr. Ryan said that while transfer should be more difficult as many people are out for longer, there is a return from crowded events such as concerts and more travel. High temperatures in particular can also drive people inside.
In Portugal, where vaccination rates are higher than in the United States, cases rose sharply after BA.5 became dominant in May and hospital admissions approached their previous Omicron peak, although they have declined.
The European Medicines Agency, the European Union’s main drug regulatory agency, said on Thursday that confirmed infections in the region could remain high for weeks as the BA.4 and BA.5 are expected to become dominant in the region by the end of July. That assessment echoed a recent forecast from the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control.
“We are in a much better position than in previous waves of infections,” said Dr. Marco Cavaleri, head of vaccine strategy at the European Medicines Agency, adding that vaccinations have helped.
The agency said it had begun reviewing emerging data for vaccines with new compounds and was working to clear updated vaccines by September, said Dr. cavalry. But given the difficulty of predicting which version of the virus would circulate by the fall, the agency was still in contact with vaccine manufacturers and considering the best approach.
“For now, we still think it’s very good to keep all options open,” said Dr. cavalry. In the United States, federal regulators have already recommended that vaccine manufacturers update boosters to target BA.4 and BA.5, in view of a fall booster campaign.
Dr. Young is also looking ahead to the fall. “I think we’re worried about a perfect storm in the fall, winter with new variants, which are almost inevitable, of Covid, flu and other respiratory infections,” he said.
The European Medicines Agency, together with the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control, recommends that people over 80 get a second booster and people over 60 get a second booster when the infection rate rises. Both are considering whether to recommend a second booster to the public on a larger scale, said Dr. Cavalry Thursday.
Alain Delaqueriere and Sarah Cahalan reporting contributed.