Deep in the wave of Covid, Europe counts cases and continues

ROME. Shoppers in a Rome bookstore ignored round floor stickers instructing them to eradicate Covid by maintaining a “distance of at least 1 meter”.

“These are things from the past,” said Silvia Giuliano, 45, who was flipping through paperbacks without a mask. She described the red signs with crossed-out spiky coronavirus spheres as artifacts “like the bricks of the Berlin Wall.”

Across Europe, faded stickers, signs and billboards stand as ghostly remnants of a past fight against Covid. But while traces of the deadliest days of the pandemic are everywhere, so is the virus.

A common refrain heard across Europe is that everyone has Covid as the BA.5 Omicron sub-option is fueling an explosion of cases across the continent. However, governments are not taking tough action, including in the previously most stringent countries, in large part because they are not seeing a significant spike in severe cases, overcrowded intensive care units, or waves of death. And Europeans have come to the clear conclusion that they will have to live with the virus.

Seats with faded blue social distancing signs urging Paris metro passengers to leave the seat vacant are almost always occupied. Crowds of Germans without masks walk past tattered signs in shops and restaurants that say “Maskenpflicht” or require a mask. At a building supplies store north of Madrid, a cashier walks down the aisle without a mask before sitting behind a perspex window. Recently at Caffè Sicilia in Noto, Sicily, three different people’s feet stood in the same “Keep a safe distance” circle as they noisily ate cannoli.

And many people are traveling again, both within Europe and beyond, bringing in much-needed travel money to countries that are desperate to support their economies.

“That’s the way it is,” said Andrea Crisanti, a professor of microbiology who served as chief consultant to Italian leaders during the coronavirus emergency. One positive, he says, is that summer infections will create more immunity for the traditionally tougher winter months. But, he said, the spread of the virus in such huge numbers also creates a “moral duty” on the part of governments to protect the elderly and other vulnerable individuals who, despite being vaccinated, remain at risk of serious illness.

“We need to change our paradigm. I don’t think measures to reduce transmission have any future,” he said, listing the causes, including social exhaustion with restrictions, greater risk-taking, and a biology of the virus that has become so contagious that “nothing can stop.” It.”

This appears to be happening across Europe, where officials take comfort in apparently low rates of serious illness and death, although some experts worry about losses to the vulnerable, the possibility that a common infection could lead to prolonged Covid-19, and an increased potential for infection. mutations leading to more dangerous versions of the virus.

The “element of chance” that spawned the new mutations “has caused concern,” said Christoph Fraser, an epidemiologist at the University of Oxford. Across Britain, the number of Covid cases has tripled or more since the end of May, according to a survey by the country’s Office for National Statistics.

“Infections are showing no signs of declining and numbers are approaching levels last seen in March of this year at the peak of the Omicron BA.2 wave,” said Sarah Crofts, who leads the statistical office’s analytics group. The number of hospitalizations has more than quadrupled since May, according to government figures. But deaths from the virus, while rising, did not approach the levels recorded earlier in the year.

“Overall, from a public health standpoint, we need to remain vigilant, but this is no reason to change course,” said Neil Ferguson, an epidemiologist at Imperial College London.

There have been some shifts. In April, the European Medicines Regulator, the European Medicines Agency, advised that second booster shots needed only for those over 80, at least until a “resumption of infections” occurs. On July 11, it was decided that the moment had come. recommending a second booster for all people over 60 years of age and all vulnerable people.

“This is how we protect ourselves, our loved ones and our vulnerable populations,” European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety Stella Kyriakides said in a statement, adding: “There is no time to waste.”

Across Europe, authorities are trying to find a balance between confidence and complacency. In Germany, the Robert Koch Institute, the federal organization in charge of tracking the virus, said there was “no evidence” that the BA.5 iteration of the virus is more deadly, but the country’s health minister, Karl Lauterbach, shared the tweets. published a hospital doctor in the German city of Darmstadt, which says that the Covid department in his clinic was fully occupied by patients with severe symptoms.

The German Vaccine Council has not yet updated its recommendations for a fourth shot and is currently only recommending a second booster dose to those over 70 and at risk.

In France, which was averaging 83,000 cases a day last week, about a third more than a month ago, Health Minister François Braun has shied away from the new restrictions. He said RTL radio Last week, “we decided to bet on French responsibility” as he recommended wearing masks in crowded places and encouraged a second dose of the vaccine for the most vulnerable people.

He seems confident that France, where nearly 80 percent of people are fully vaccinated and its hospitals will be able to handle a new wave of infections, has focused more on collecting data to track the virus. “Minimum but necessary measures” was the right approach, Mr. Brown recently told the legal commission Or the French Parliament. Last week, a proposal to give the government the power to still require proof of vaccination or a negative coronavirus test upon entry into France fell through Parliament.

In Spain, where the vaccination rate is over 85 percent and more than half of the eligible population has been revaccinated, a pandemic seems like an afterthought as Spaniards have returned to their usual beach holiday and eagerly welcome tourists. Officials, encouraged by the low workload in intensive care units, said monitoring the situation would be sufficient.

Not everyone was satisfied.

“We have forgotten almost everything,” said Rafael Vilasanjuan, director of policy and global development at the Barcelona Institute for Global Health, a research body.

But other parts of Europe were even more uninvolving. In the Czech Republic, where there are no restrictions at all, including in hospitals, the virus is rampant, and officials openly predict an increase in the incidence.

“The current wave is copying trends in other European countries that are weeks ahead of us, and they have not had a major impact on their healthcare system,” said Deputy Health Minister Josef Pavlovich.

Bars, restaurants and cinemas in Denmark have been crowded, with cases up 11 percent in the past two weeks, including hundreds of people at a music festival this month. “The numbers are positive – no one else gets seriously ill from the new variant,” said Soren Brostrom, director general of the Danish Health Authority.

The Danish Health Authority expects the infection to spread in the fall and plans to offer booster shots.

In Italy, the first Western country to face the full force of the virus, new case reports have risen steadily since mid-June, although they dropped last week. The average daily number of deaths has more than doubled in the past month, but hospitals are not overwhelmed. Health Minister Roberto Speranza has announced that the country will follow the advice of the European regulatory body and offer a second Covid-19 booster to all people over 60, not just those over 80 and vulnerable patients.

“In the current situation, you need to implement a comprehensive policy to protect vulnerable people who, despite being vaccinated, are still at risk of developing severe, severe diseases,” Mr. Crisanti, a former adviser to Italian leaders on the virus, lamented that he said there were still huge numbers of deaths from infectious diseases every day.

He predicted that over time, if vulnerable older people die, the number of deaths caused by the virus will decrease and the virus will become more endemic. He said that the immune system of people aged 70 to 90 in the future will have a memory of the virus and protection against it.

At this point, the shabby traces of Europe’s fight against Covid would indeed belong to another era. Meanwhile, another woman in a Roman bookstore, this time wearing an N95 mask, was worried that the stickers under her feet would become relevant again.

“Reality,” she said, “moves faster than laws.”

Report has been provided Constant Meeu from Paris, Gaia Pianigiani from Siena, Italy; Erica Solomon from Berlin; Cora Engelbrecht from London; Francesca Melendez from Madrid, Hana de Goy from Prague and Jasmine Nielsen in Denmark.