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Europe has missed its chance to stop the third wave. The US could be next

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On Monday, large parts of Italy, including the cities of Rome and Milan, re-entered strict blocking, while in Spain, all regions except Madrid have decided to restrict travel during the upcoming Easter holidays. The German capital Berlin has also slowed planning to close, citing a growing number of Covid-19 cases.

Critics say the new restrictions have come too late and that Europe’s current problems can be traced back to politicians too eager to start relaxing.

“The second wave didn’t end, the closure was interrupted too soon, to let people go shopping for Christmas,” French epidemiologist Catherine Hill told CNN. He said infection levels remained at a high level. “They have recently been admitted to intensive care units [been increasing] regularly, and the situation is now critical in various parts of the country, including Greater Paris. “

A most contagious variant of the virus, known as B.1.1.7, appears to be the common culprit of the chaos. New preliminary data published in the British Medical Journal suggest that the strain, first detected last year in the UK, it can also be more deadly.

Alessandro Grimaldi, director of infectious diseases at Salvatore Hospital in the Italian city of L’Aquila, told CNN that the new, more contagious variant “changed the game,” adding that “inevitably, measures taken to prevent the infection needs to be more drastic. “

The World Health Organization warned about this almost two months ago, when it became clear that the UK variant was circulating in most of Europe. “Once it becomes dominant, it can affect the epidemic curve in general and lead to the need for a more restrictive approach to public health and the social measures that need to be put in place, so that transmission rates can decrease.” , explains the WHO emergency officer. for Europe, Catherine Smallwood said then.

Now this has happened. The German center for disease control announced on March 10 that the UK variant had become the dominant strain in Germany. The new variant is also responsible for most new cases in France and Italy, according to health officials there. In Spain, B.1.1.7 is now the dominant strain in nine of the country’s 19 regions.

The worsening situation in Europe is becoming a precautionary tale for the United States. The variant that causes a renewed crisis across the continent is also spreading rapidly in the US. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has designed it it will become the dominant strain in the United States later this month or early April.

But there is another reason why American experts are worried about what is happening in Europe right now.

Germany, France, Italy and Spain avoided the huge rises in infections they had paralyzed the United Kingdom after the Christmas holidays. Their infection levels were stable or showed signs of decline a few weeks ago. With the deployment of vaccination, albeit slowly, across the continent, people began to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

But while the trends looked promising, the number of cases was still very high. And that became a major problem when the new wave began: making new blockades necessary, Grimaldi said.

“It’s not easy to make closures, because of the economic despair it entails … the lifestyle change it entails,” he said. “But they are indispensable in trying to stop the virus.”

He said data from a recent study by the University of Bologna have shown that stricter blocking measures, called “red zones” in Italy, work, leading to a 91% drop in the number of people related to Covid. . deaths.

A delay in the decision to impose blockades can be deadly. The Resolution Foundation, a British think tank, said on Thursday that 27,000 more people had died from Covid-19 because the government delayed the start of the country’s last closure until January, although there have been cases of rapid increases in December.

A man walks near a closed bar in Piazza Vittorio in Turin on March 17, 2021.
U.S. public health officials are concerned the United States is moving in the same direction, with some states beginning to moderate security measures, even if the cases are high. “When you see a plateau at a level of up to 60,000 cases a day, it’s a very vulnerable time to have an increase, to go up again. That’s exactly what happened in Europe.” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases told CNN.

He noted that after promising declines in the number of Covid-19s, some European countries “withdrew from public health measures”, which has led to further rises.

Mike Tildesley, an infectious disease modeling expert at the University of Warwick and a scientific adviser to the UK government, said the slower deployment of vaccines in many European countries means they have a higher risk of seeing large waves of new cases . “Unfortunately, until nations approach herd immunity, we are likely to see waves of infection as countries move between the blocking phases,” he said.

Grimaldi said that while vaccination plays an important role in fighting the epidemic, it must go hand in hand with security measures, because the more the virus circulates in the population, the more likely it is to mutate. . “The virus will try to survive despite the vaccine, so blockages are really the only way to stop the circulation of the virus,” he said.

Without a global vaccine plan, coronavirus variants could cause an incalculable number of deaths

A new model published Thursday in The Lancet showed that vaccines alone may not be enough to contain the epidemic, stressing the need to gradually ease restrictions instead of reopening a big bang.

Hill, the French epidemiologist, added that evidence must also remain a key part of the strategy. “To control the epidemic it is necessary to massively test the population to find and isolate the carriers of the virus,” he said, noting the estimated 50% of infections caused by individuals who do not know they have Covid-19. .

The new wave of major cases is not limited to Europe. Case figures have risen 10% globally over the past week to more than 3 million new cases reported, according to the latest WHO status report.

The number of new cases peaked in early January, but then declined for four weeks in a row before increasing over the past three weeks. The number of people dying is still declining and has dropped below 60,000 per week last week, the first time it has happened since early November.

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