Coronavirus infections broke records in parts of Europe on Wednesday, with the continent once again the epicenter of a pandemic that has led to new movement restrictions and has seen health experts push to expand the use of booster vaccinations.
Slovakia, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands and Hungary all reported new spikes in daily infections as winter grips Europe and people gather indoors ahead of Christmas, providing a perfect breeding ground for COVID-19.
New cases rose 23% in the Americas in the past week, primarily in North America, a sign that the region may also be experiencing a resurgence of infections.
The disease has swept the world in the two years since it was first identified in central China, infecting more than 258 million people and killing 5.4 million.
The European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), the EU’s public health agency, has recommended vaccine boosters for all adults, with priority for those over the age of 40, in a major shift from previous guidelines suggesting additional doses should be considered for the elderly. vulnerable people and people with weakened immune systems.
“Evidence available from Israel and the UK shows a significant increase in protection against infection and serious illness following a short-term booster dose in all age groups,” the ECDC said on Wednesday.
Many EU countries have already started giving booster doses, but use different criteria to prioritize and different intervals between the first injections and boosters.
ECDC head Andrea Ammon said boosters would increase protection against infection caused by declining immunity and “potentially reduce transmission in the population and prevent additional hospitalizations and deaths”.
She advised countries with low vaccination levels to accelerate the rollout and warned of a high risk of a further spike in deaths and hospitalizations in Europe in December and January if the recommended measures are not implemented.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, head of the World Health Organization, acknowledged that Europe was once again the epicenter of the pandemic and warned of a “false sense of security” about the protection offered by vaccines.
“No country is out of the woods,” he told reporters, adding that he hoped a consensus could be found at a World Trade Organization ministerial meeting next week for an IP exemption for pandemic vaccines.
Sweden will gradually start rolling out boosters to all adults, government and health officials said. Booster shots of the mRNA vaccine have been offered to people aged 65 or older, with a view to potentially expanding the shots to other groups.
“We are facing an uncertain winter,” Health Minister Lena Hallengren said at a news conference. “You can contribute by staying home if you’re sick or getting vaccinated if you haven’t already, and taking your booster when you’re offered it.”
Slovakia reported the highest daily rise in cases on Wednesday as the government approved a two-week lockdown to curb the world’s fastest rise in infections.
Restaurants and non-essential shops will close and movement will be restricted to travel for essential errands, work, school or medical visits.
“The situation is serious,” said Prime Minister Eduard Heger, “we ended up here because the (existing) measures were not respected.”
Neighboring Austria has already locked down for at least 10 days this week and is the first to re-impose such restrictions. It will also require the entire population to be vaccinated from February 1, angering many in a country where skepticism about the state’s curtailment of individual freedoms is high.
The Czech Republic reported the highest daily increase in infections, with more than 25,000 cases for the first time. The government wants to introduce mandatory vaccines for people over 60 and some professions, such as health workers.
Prime Minister Andrej Babis said on Wednesday that the cabinet will discuss more measures on Friday.
The Netherlands registered more than 23,700 infections with the corona virus in 24 hours, the highest number since the start of the pandemic, and the government will announce new measures on Friday.
Hungary reported a record 12,637 new daily COVID-19 cases.
Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government, who opposes further lockdowns for fear of stifling the economy, launched a vaccination campaign this week, offering shots without prior registration.
Authorities in Russia, where the daily number of deaths from coronavirus is near record highs, said they scoured social networks and media websites to find people spreading false claims about the dangers of vaccination.
France will announce new COVID measures on Thursday, while Italy will impose restrictions on people who have not been vaccinated, preventing them from going to cinemas, restaurants and sporting events in new restrictions that come into effect from December 6.
Portugal, one of the world’s most vaccinated countries, will be giving booster shots to a quarter of the population by the end of January. Cases there hit their highest point in four months on Wednesday.
However, the number of deaths remains well below January levels and the infection rate is much lower than in most of Western Europe.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and has been published from a syndicated feed.)