Europe faces a summer of Covid spikes

There are just under 500,000 cases daily, according to WHO data, compared to about 150,000 a month ago

People wear face masks to protect against Covid-19 as they ride a subway in Paris. AP
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Coronavirus levels in Europe will hit “high levels”, the World Health Organisation said as it urged health experts to watch for rising cases.

Cases have tripled in the past month for the 53 countries in the WHO European region but so far it is the milder, but more contagious, Omicron subvariant BA.5 that is spreading.

Hospital admissions linked to Covid are rising in the UK and in France people have been advised to start wearing face masks.

“As countries across the European region have lifted the social measures that were previously in place, the virus will transmit at high levels over the summer,” WHO Europe regional director Hans Kluge said.

“This virus won't go away just because countries stop looking for it. It's still spreading, it's still changing, and it's still taking lives.”

There are just under 500,000 cases daily, according to WHO data, compared to about 150,000 cases daily at the end of May.

A curbside testing tent in front of a pharmacy in Paris. AFP

Austria, Cyprus, France, Germany, Greece, Luxembourg and Portugal were the countries with the highest incidence rates, with almost all countries in the region recording a rise in cases.

After registering around 4,000 to 5,000 deaths per day throughout most of the winter, Europe is now recording about 500 deaths per day, about the same level as during the summer of 2020.

“We hope that the strong vaccine programmes most member states have implemented together with prior infection will mean that we avoid the more severe consequences that we saw earlier in the pandemic,” Mr Kluge said.

“However, our recommendations remain,” he stressed.

The WHO urged people experiencing respiratory symptoms to isolate, to stay up to date with their vaccinations and wear masks in crowded places.

“We must keep looking for the virus because not doing so makes us increasingly blind to patterns of transmission and virus evolution,” Mr Kluge said.

He also called on countries to increase their vaccination rates.

“High population immunity and the choices made to lower risk to older people is key to preventing further mortality this summer,” he said.

French Health Minister Brigitte Bourguignon said on Monday that people should start wearing masks again in crowded areas, especially on public transport.

She said face masks should also be worn again in enclosed areas, such as workplaces or shops.

New infections have been steadily rising since the end of May in France, with the seven-day moving average of daily new cases more than quadrupling between the May 27 figure of 17,705 and Monday's 71,018.

That total is still five times lower than the 366,179 record at the start of the year.

In the UK, hospital admissions linked to Covid are climbing again as Omicron subvariants cause new outbreaks across the country.

England’s hospital admission rate for the week through June 26 stood at 11.11 per 100,000 people, jumping nearly 40 per cent from 7.98 in the previous week, according to the UK Health Security Agency, with intensive-care cases spreading among older age groups.

“We continue to see an increase in Covid-19 data, with a rise in case rates and hospitalisation in those aged 65 years and over, and outbreaks in care homes,” said Mary Ramsay, director of clinical programmes at the agency.

Although deaths and hospital admittances are still well behind levels during earlier Covid waves, the latest data suggests that a recent increase in infections could lead to more pressure on health systems and disruption to businesses.

In the UK, two Omicron subvariants — BA.4 and BA.5 — have now become dominant, making up more than half of new Covid cases in England, a government report last week found. The UK government earlier said the rise in cases had not translated to an increase in serious sickness and deaths, because of vaccines.

Updated: June 30, 2022, 7:29 PM