Brussels / Prague:
Coronavirus infections broke records in parts of Europe on Wednesday, with the continent once again the epicenter of a pandemic that has prompted new traffic brakes and seen health experts push to expand the use of booster vaccines.
Slovakia, Czech Republic, Netherlands and Hungary have all reported new highs of daily infections as winter grips Europe and people congregate indoors as it approaches Christmas tree, providing an ideal breeding ground for COVID-19.
New cases jumped 23% in the Americas last week, mostly in North America, a sign the region could also face a resurgence in infections.
The disease swept the world in the two years since it was first identified in central China, infecting more than 258 million people and killing 5.4 million people.
The European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), the EU’s public health agency, has recommended vaccine boosters for all adults, with priority for those over 40, in a major change compared to its previous guidelines which suggested that additional doses should be considered for the elderly. frail people and those with weakened immune systems.
“Available evidence from Israel and the UK shows a significant increase in protection against serious infection and disease after a booster dose in all age groups in the short term,” ECDC said Wednesday .
Many EU countries have already started giving booster doses, but use different criteria to prioritize them and different intervals between first injections and boosters.
ECDC chief Andrea Ammon said the boosters would increase protection against infections caused by declining immunity and “could potentially reduce transmission in the population and prevent additional hospitalizations and deaths.”
She advised countries with low immunization levels to speed up deployments and warned of the high risks of a new spike in deaths and hospitalizations in Europe in December and January if recommended measures are not introduced.
World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, acknowledging Europe was again at epicenter of pandemic, warned of ‘false sense of security’ over vaccine protection .
“No country has come out of the woods,” he told reporters, adding that he hoped a consensus could be found at a World Trade Organization ministerial meeting next week for a intellectual property exemption for pandemic vaccines.
Sweden will start gradually rolling out boosters for all adults, government and health officials said. Booster injections of mRNA vaccine have been offered to people 65 years of age or older, with a view to possibly extending the injections to other groups.
“We are facing an uncertain winter,” Health Minister Lena Hallengren told a press conference. “You can help by staying home if you’re sick or getting the shot if you haven’t already, and taking your booster when offered.”
Slovakia reported its biggest daily increase in cases on Wednesday when the government approved a two-week lockdown to curb the world’s fastest outbreak of infections.
Non-essential restaurants and stores will close and travel will be limited to travel for essential purchases, work, school or medical visits.
“The situation is serious,” Prime Minister Eduard Heger said, “We came here because the (existing) measures were not respected”.
Neighboring Austria has already closed its doors this week for at least 10 days, becoming the first to reimpose such restrictions. The entire population will also have to be vaccinated from February 1, exasperating many in a country where skepticism about state restrictions on individual freedoms is high.
The Czech Republic reported its largest daily increase in infections, with cases exceeding 25,000 for the first time. The government is seeking to introduce mandatory vaccines for people over 60 and certain professions, such as healthcare workers.
Prime Minister Andrej Babis said on Wednesday the cabinet would discuss new measures on Friday.
Hungary has reported a record 12,637 new daily cases of COVID-19.
The government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban, which opposes new containment measures for fear of stifling the economy, launched a vaccination campaign this week, offering vaccines without prior registration.
Authorities in Russia, where daily coronavirus-related deaths are near record highs, said they were scouring social networks and media websites to find people spreading false claims about the dangers of vaccination.
France will announce new COVID measures on Thursday, while Italy tightens restrictions on unvaccinated people, preventing them from going to movies, restaurants and sporting events under new restrictions from December 6.
Portugal, one of the most vaccinated countries in the world, will give boosters to a quarter of its population by the end of January. Cases there reached a daily high of four months on Wednesday.
Deaths, however, remain well below January levels and the infection rate is well below that of most Western European countries.
(Except for the title, this story was not edited by DAILYNEWSCATCH staff and is posted from a syndicated feed.)