- Even with highly effective vaccines, European health officials struggle to combat the highly contagious delta variant as colder temperatures cause more people to gather indoors.
Europe is now again at the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic, with more cases being reported on the continent every day than at any other time in history. Infection rates in Austria, Germany, and the Netherlands have already doubled from last winter’s peak.
As a result, governments have been coerced to reintroduce the strict restrictions that most Europeans thought had been lifted. Lockdowns have been imposed in Austria and Slovakia, with bars, restaurants, and non-essential stores closing in an effort to contain the outbreaks in both countries.
The emergence of a new omicron variant, which the World Health Organization believes may increase the risk of reinfection, has alarmed European leaders.
The variant has been found in travelers to more than ten European countries, including Denmark, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom.
During a visit to Latvia, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen stated that while scientists will need two to three weeks to get a complete picture of the variant, the top priorities should be social distancing and administering booster doses. “The general rule of thumb is to hope for the best but plan for the worst,” she added.
Even with extremely effective vaccines, European health officials struggle to combat the highly contagious delta variant as colder temperatures cause more people to gather indoors. In addition, the winter surge has highlighted the continent’s disparities in vaccination rates. Even though cases have rise across the continent, only in under-vaccinated countries have deaths reached the levels seen after similar surges in the past.
Experts agree that improving vaccination rates is the only way to break the current cycle of surges and restrictions.
According to Bruno Ciancio, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control’s head of surveillance, while lockdowns are the only option for countries once the virus’s spread becomes unsustainable, they only help in the short term.
“At the same time that such measures are being implemented, everything must be done actually to rise the level of protection in the population,” Ciancio said. “Otherwise, it’ll just be back and forth.” And, unfortunately, we are likely to see this throughout the winter.”
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