Europe crosses a new wave of COVID cases that already equals the peak of infections registered just a year ago, the worst so far, and it has placed the continent back at the epicenter of the pandemic. Many countries are breaking infection records, and several are reintroducing measures to curb transmission and avoid overloading their health systems. Until a few days ago Spain observed the escalation from a distance. “We have cornered the virus unlike the European environment,” said the Minister of Health, Carolina Darias, two weeks ago. However, concern is beginning to grow at the rate of infections in our country.
Ascent rate has accelerated And, although hospitals are safe for the moment – the vaccine protects against serious disease – experts see some restrictions may have to be resumed in the coming weeks. “It is not true that the virus circulates and nothing happens, although there are fewer people who end up in the hospital or in the ICU because they are vaccinated. We already know that we are going to see an increase in the incidence and in hospitalized cases, which no one you can predict exactly how serious it will be, “warns José Martínez Olmos, professor at the Andalusian School of Public Health. Where the roof of this wave is located is the great unknown for the experts.
Patients admitted to and in the ICU for COVID-19 began to grow at the beginning of the month, slowly but steadily. According to the latest data, there are 2,260 people hospitalized for the virus, 19% more than a week ago; and 443, 10% more, in intensive care beds. Despite the rise, it is important to understand the data in its context: in June, with a similar level of incidence and less vaccinated population, there were almost 1,000 more patients in hospitals (3,089) and twice as many admitted to the ICU (853). In addition, the percentage of hospitalized with COVID-19 with respect to the totals is still below the 2% threshold. The UCI just touches the limit: occupancy has reached 5% this Thursday.
The virus entered southern Europe in March 2020. When Spain already had an unsustainable situation, other European countries still had time to impose strict measures before the lack of control. Since then, the cycles of Spain and the rest of Europe have been out of step. Also in this new wave, in the one that the countries of the center and the east have advanced.
Does that mean that Spain is going to escape from it? “It is not possible to prevent in the long and even medium term in this pandemic, so we do not know, but anticipating is always beneficial and risk reduction strategies are always welcome if they can help avoid more severe interventions”, says Antoine Flahault , Director of the Institute for Global Health at the University of Geneva School of Medicine. For the expert, who answers elDiario.es questions in writing, “Spain should, at least, anticipate that it might not be saved.”
The outbreak of contagion in Europe has been attributed to several factors, from the increase in social interaction and the arrival of the cold – when people spend more time indoors – to the lifting of restrictions and regulations such as the mandatory use of masks , going through sometimes insufficient vaccine coverage and a context of more transmissible variants, such as delta. Increased transmission is expected to put pressure on the health system in countries with lower immunization levels or significant numbers of unvaccinated vulnerable people.
To questions from elDiario.es, a WHO Europe spokeswoman points out that precisely the good vaccination coverage (79%), the maintenance of the mask and the climatic factors – more people can be seen outside because it is not so cold – they explain that Spain has better data than other neighboring countries. “But no country can afford to lower its guard,” he adds.
What does it mean not to lower your guard? Martínez Olmos mentions three planes. On the one hand, do not relax the measures “that depend on us” due to a false sense of security when vaccinated: ventilate interiors, keep your distance, wash your hands and put on a mask. “It is in our power, if we comply with this, the possibility of contagion is very low, “he recalls.
On the other, carefully monitor the rise in incidence and act by imposing restrictions “when the COVID traffic light marks it,” the review of which is underway. The autonomous communities are considering these days to require a vaccination passport or negative test to enter entertainment venues as a way to avoid measures that affect the entire population, a tool that experts warn has a “limited” effect. The epidemiologist Martínez Olmos also advances that it will be essential to “make early detection and good tracking” in Primary Care, an Achilles heel for Spain. Health centers have been overwhelmed since the beginning of the pandemic with no signs of improvement.
Despite the differences between countries, the European wave has common characteristics: the rate of case notification is high and increasing rapidly, while the mortality rate is low but slowly increasing. according to the latest weekly ECDC surveillance report. The EU agency expects hospital admissions and ICU admissions to rise this week and next, although the outlook varies considerably between countries. Those with the lowest vaccination rates remain the most severely affected, the ECDC said in its latest weekly report. In general, despite the high number of infections, the effect of vaccines to save lives, preventing serious illness and death, is evident in the curves.
As can be seen in the previous map, infections are growing throughout the continent, but incidences are especially high in central and eastern Europe, in addition to the United Kingdom and Norway. Spain, along with Sweden, and followed by Portugal, France and Italy, is among those with a lower incidence of cases per 100,000 inhabitants at 14 days, according to elDiario.es analysis of data from Johns Hopkins University, which depends largely on the tests carried out.
The situation It is different in Germany, which is at peak of infections. The country is heading for a “very bad” Christmas if no action is taken, warned a frustrated Lothar Wieler, director of the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), the German health authority. “There is an emergency in our country,” he said.
Germany has been pulverizing records of daily infections for days and the situation in hospitals is worsening, according to Wieler, who explained that the number of seriously ill COVID is increasing and in some parts of the country, people who have suffered other serious conditions have to spend up to two hours looking for a free intensive care bed.
According to data from the Interdisciplinary Association for Intensive Care Medicine (DIVI), in 100 out of 400 German districts there is only one free bed and there are 50 districts that no longer have free beds in intensive care. The occupancy of beds available in intensive care units for the adult population is 15.2%. The incidence of hospitalization has grown to 5.3 cases per 100,000 residents in the last seven days. At its peak, during Christmas last year, it topped 15. Deaths have doubled in the past two weeks, but for now growing less steeply than in previous waves thanks to vaccination.
The percentage of the population with the full pattern in Germany has stagnated below 70%, a relatively lower acceptance than in other parts of Western Europe. This is what the prominent German virologist referred to Christian Drosten in an interview with Der Spiegel, who said that Spain could leave the pandemic behind in spring thanks to its high percentage of vaccination. “We are very far from the end of the pandemic. As soon as (the variant) delta is imposed with all its force, hospitals will be saturated. (…) On the other hand, in countries with high vaccination rates such as Spain and Portugal the pandemic may be finally overcome in spring, “said Drosten, in favor of restricting contacts and speeding up the vaccination campaign in the adult population.
The German federal government and the state governments have agreed this Thursday that the so-called “2G rule”, which allows entry only to those vaccinated and recovered to leisure activities, will be introduced in areas with a rate of more than three patients admitted per 100,000 persons.
Neighboring Austria, which has adopted a controversial lockdown for the unvaccinated, has one of the highest case rates on the continent (and the world), in its largest wave since the start of the pandemic. Infections have soared to 1,653 per 100,000 inhabitants in the last two weeks. Deaths are also on the rise, but at a lower rate than the worst peak yet, last fall. The comparatively low level of immunization, 64%, has been described as “shameful” by the Austrian Government itself. The pressure on the Executive to impose a confinement to the entire population this Friday has increased, with Salzburg and Upper Austria, the most affected regions, announcing that they will adopt the measure for themselves.
Along with Austria, the European countries with the worst incidences of cases in the last 14 days are Slovenia, Croatia, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, according to the analysis of elDiario.es. They all have something in common: they are at the tail end of vaccination in the EU, below the 59% of the population inoculated with the full regimen.
Infections have skyrocketed in the Czech Republic to 1,372 cases per 100,000 people in the last two weeks. Deaths and hospitalizations are growing. The number of patients admitted, around 4,500, roughly half the peak in March. The country has announced that it will only allow people vaccinated and recovered from COVID-19 access to restaurants or certain events. Neighboring Slovakia, with 1,555 cases per 100,000 inhabitants in two weeks and the third lowest vaccination rate in the EU, has also chosen the path of enacting similar restrictions on the unimmunized to try to encourage more people to inoculate and ease the burden on hospitals.
Belgium is also currently registering a very high incidence, 1,293 cases per 100,000 inhabitants. Its vaccination coverage, however, is much higher, among the largest in the EU, with about 75% of citizens fully immunized. But the number of infections, hospital admissions and intensive care patients has nearly doubled in the past two weeks. To avoid overloading the healthcare system and reduce the number of contacts, has extended the use of masks and has done mandatory telework four days a week until December 13.
Dutch authorities have said they are at full capacity to test for COVID-19, with the Netherlands registering the highest numbers of infections since the pandemic began. In the last 14 days, it has counted 1,159 cases per 100,000 inhabitants. Hospital pressure is growing which is why the Dutch Government decided last week, among other measures, to advance the closure of the hotel business and non-essential stores at 8:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. respectively, as well as prohibiting the presence of the public at sporting events. About 73% of the population is fully immunized.