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Dhaka Tribune

Covid clutch intensifies in Europe, again

Countries such as Britain, France, Germany and Italy see a dramatic resurgence of infections

Update : 24 Mar 2022, 05:02 PM

Almost one-third of European countries are witnessing a surge in Covid-19 cases driven by a highly transmissible subvariant and due to the “brutal” withdrawal of restrictions too early, said the World Health Organization (WHO).  

The countries include Germany, France, Italy and the UK as mentioned by the global health body’s regional head in a briefing in Moldova on Monday.  

Rising Covid-19 cases in Europe, driven by BA.2, a subvariant of Omicron, have ignited fears of a potential rise in cases in the US too.

“The countries where we see in particular an increase are the United Kingdom, Ireland, Greece, Cyprus, France, Italy and Germany,” said Hans Kluge, the WHO’s director for Europe, during the briefing. 

 The cases were on the rise in 18 out of 53 states in the region.

“Those countries are lifting restrictions brutally from too much to too few”, he said, before claiming that one reason behind the surge is the higher transmissibility of the BA.2 subvariant.

The number of new Covid-19 cases in Europe fell sharply after a peak at the end of January-- but has been on the rise again since early March, according to the WHO.

Newly confirmed cases climbed to 5.4 million in the past seven days, up from 4.9 million at the end of February, reports Bloomberg citing the UN health body. More than 12,400 people died from Covid in the past week, shows the WHO data.

Many European countries reimposed tight restrictions on social gatherings after the emergence of the Omicron variant last year, only to drastically scale back early in 2022 when data showed that the strand was less severe than previous iterations.

In France, infections have risen by more than a third in the first week since the government ended most Covid restrictions on March 14.

Germany's parliament approved a new law on March 18 that lifted most restrictions to contain the coronavirus. The country's benchmark infection rate, measuring infections per 100,000 people over the last week, hit a pandemic high of 1,585.4 on March 18.

Italy decided on March 17 that it would phase out almost all restrictions by May 1 despite rising cases. And in the United Kingdom, where one in 20 people are currently infected, the government removed the last of its international travel restrictions on March 18.

New Zealand is set to significantly relax its Covid-19 restrictions with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Wednesday calling it a "new beginning for the country".

Now, the BA.2 subvariant is spurring a new round of infections on the continent -- while Kluge said he remains "optimistic, but vigilant" about the state of the pandemic on his patch.

The WHO official, however, remains optimistic but "vigilant" about the pandemic in Europe because many people have built up immunity through vaccinations, winter is drawing to a close and omicron is a milder strain than previous variants. 

“However, in countries with low vaccination rates, it’s still a disease that kills people,” he warned.

While BA.2 appears to be more infectious than the original Omicron variant, it does not seem to be more severe. 

Researchers in the UK and Denmark have found that BA.2 causes a level of hospitalization similar to BA.1, which is already less likely to cause severe illness than the previously dominant Delta variant.

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