COVID cases break record in Europe, prompting stepped up injections to expand Reuters

© Reuters. File photo: October 15, 2021, a doctor in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) of Pirogov Hospital in Sofia, Bulgaria, tends to treat patients with coronavirus disease (COVID-19). REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov

Authors: Francesco Guarascio and Jason Hovet

Brussels/Prague (Reuters)-On Wednesday, coronavirus infections in parts of Europe broke records, and the European continent once again became the epicenter of the pandemic, prompting new restrictions on movement and seeing health experts pushing for expanded use of enhanced vaccination .

Slovakia, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands and Hungary have all reported that as the winter swept Europe, people gathered indoors on Christmas Eve, and the number of daily infections hit a new high, which provides a perfect breeding ground for COVID-19.

Last week, new cases in the Americas increased by 23%, mainly in North America, indicating that the region may also face a resurgence of infection.

Since the disease was first discovered in central China, it has swept the world over the past two years, with more than 258 million infections and 5.4 million deaths.

The European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), a public health agency in the European Union, recommends that all adults receive booster doses of vaccines, with priority given to those over 40 years old. This is a major change from the previous guidance. The guidance suggests that consideration should be given to adding extra People with weak doses and people with weakened immune systems.

ECDC said on Wednesday: “The available evidence from Israel and the United Kingdom shows that in the short term, after booster doses for all age groups, the protection against infections and serious diseases is significantly improved.”

Many EU countries have begun to give booster doses, but different criteria are being used to determine their order of priority, as well as the different intervals between the first injection and booster dose.

Andrea Ammon, head of ECDC, said that the booster will enhance protection against infections caused by weakened immunity, “may reduce transmission among the population and prevent additional hospitalization and death.”

She recommended that countries with low levels of vaccination speed up the promotion, and warned that if the recommended measures are not taken, there is a high risk of a further surge in the number of deaths and hospitalizations in Europe in December and January.

The Director-General of the World Health Organization Tan Desai acknowledged that Europe is again at the center of the pandemic and warned people not to have a “false sense of security” over the protection provided by vaccines.

He told reporters: “No country is out of the predicament,” he added, adding that he hopes that next week’s World Trade Organization ministerial meeting will reach a consensus on intellectual property exemptions for pandemic vaccines.

The Swedish government and health officials said that Sweden will begin to gradually introduce boosters to all adults. Booster injections of mRNA vaccines have been provided to people 65 years of age or older, and are aiming to eventually expand the scope of injections to other groups.

“We are facing an uncertain winter,” Health Minister Lena Hallengren said at a news conference. “If you stay home when you are sick, or if you have not been vaccinated, then you can contribute and take a booster when you provide it.”

Slovakia reported its highest daily increase in cases on Wednesday, when the government approved a two-week lockdown to contain the world’s fastest surge in infections.

Restaurants and non-essential stores will be closed, and activities will be limited to essential shopping, work, school or medical visits.

“The situation is serious,” said Prime Minister Edward Hegel. “We came here because we did not comply with (existing) measures.”

Vaccination appointment

Neighboring Austria has been blocked for at least 10 days this week, becoming the first country to re-implement such restrictions. It will also require the entire population to be vaccinated from February 1, which has angered many people in a country that is skeptical of the country’s restrictions on individual freedom.

The Czech Republic reported the highest increase in the number of daily infections, with cases exceeding 25,000 for the first time. The government is seeking to develop mandatory vaccines for people over 60 and certain occupations (such as healthcare workers).

Prime Minister Andre Babis said on Wednesday that the Cabinet will discuss more measures on Friday.

The Netherlands recorded more than 23,700 coronavirus infections in 24 hours, the highest number since the pandemic began, and the government will announce new measures on Friday.

Hungary has reported a record 12,637 new daily COVID-19 cases.

The government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who opposed further blockades for fear of stifling the economy, launched a vaccination campaign this week to provide vaccinations without prior registration.

The daily death toll related to the coronavirus is close to a record high in Russian authorities, saying that they are searching social networks and media sites to find people spreading false statements about the dangers of vaccination.

France will announce new COVID measures on Thursday, while Italy is tightening restrictions on people who have not been vaccinated. From December 6th, new restrictions will be implemented, banning them from going to cinemas, restaurants and sports events.

Portugal is one of the most vaccinated countries in the world, and by the end of January, Portugal will vaccinate a quarter of its population. On Wednesday, the number of cases there reached a single-day high in four months.

However, the death toll is still far below the January level, and the infection rate is also much lower than most parts of Western Europe.

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