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COVID-19

EU health warning: ‘High’ risk new coronavirus strains will lead to more deaths

The EU's health agency has warned of a 'high' risk that newly discovered coronavirus variants could increase the strain on healthcare and ultimately cause more deaths due to their infectious nature.

EU health warning: 'High' risk new coronavirus strains will lead to more deaths
A healthcare worker cleans an ambulance outside a hospital in London. Photo: Tolga Akmen/AFP

The Stockholm-based European Centre Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) said in a report that “although there is no information that infections with these strains are more severe”, the fact that they would spread more easily means that the impact on “hospitalisations and deaths is assessed as high”.

Just like previously circulating virus variants, this was particularly true for “those in older age groups or with co-morbidities”, the agency added.

The report specifically addressed the two new variants discovered in the UK and in South Africa, both of which show signs of “increased transmissibility”.

More than 3,000 cases of the UK variant have already been reported in the UK and dozens of countries in Europe and around the world, according to the ECDC.

In South Africa, more than 300 cases of another variant have been recorded and three cases of the same variant have been confirmed in Europe, two in the UK and one in Finland, but all three have been connected to people returning from South Africa.

The health agency recommended countries to continue advising citizens “of the need for non-pharmaceutical interventions in accordance with their local epidemiological situation” with a particular focus on “non-essential travel and social activities”.

The ECDC also recommended a number of options for “delaying the introduction and further spread of a new variant of concern”, including targeted sequencing of community cases to “detect early and monitor the incidence of the variant”.

In addition it recommended increased “follow-up and testing” of people linked to areas with higher numbers of the variant and also remind people coming from such areas of the need to “comply with quarantine” and getting tested.

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COVID-19

Covid-19: Are Italian live events at risk of being postponed?

As the infection rate rises sharply across the country, Italian virologists are calling for concerts and festivals to be rescheduled.

Covid-19: Are Italian live events at risk of being postponed?

Italy has seen a large increase in the number of Covid-19 cases in recent days, so much so that a number of virologists across the country are now urging the government to postpone major live events in a bid to curb infections. 

According to a new report by Italy’s independent health watchdog, the Gimbe Foundation, 595,349 new cases were recorded in the week from June 29th to July 5th; a worrying 55 percent increase on the previous week. 

In the same time span, the country also registered a 32.8 percent rise in the number of hospitalised patients, which went from 6,035 to 8,003.  

The latest Covid wave, which is being driven by the highly contagious Omicron 5 variant, is a “real cause for concern”, especially in terms of a “potential patient overload”, said Nino Cartabellotta, president of the Gimbe Foundation. 

As Italian cities prepare to host a packed calendar of concerts and festivals this summer, health experts are questioning whether such events should actually take place given the high risk of transmission associated with mass gatherings.

READ ALSO: What tourists in Italy need to know if they get Covid-19

“Rescheduling these types of events would be the best thing to do right now,” said Massimo Ciccozzi, Director of Epidemiology at Campus Bio-Medico University of Rome. 

The summer wave is expected to peak in mid-July but, Ciccozzi warns, the upcoming live events might “delay [the peak] until the end of July or even beyond” and extend the infection curve.

Antonello Maruotti, Professor of Statistics at LUMSA University of Rome, recently shared Ciccozzi’s concerns, saying that live events as big as Maneskin’s scheduled Rome concert are “definitely not a good idea”. 

The Italian rock band are slated to perform at the Circus Maximus on Saturday, July 9th but the expected turnout – over 70,000 fans are set to attend the event – has raised objections from an array of Italian doctors, with some warning that the concert might cause as many as 20,000 new cases.

If it were to materialise, the prospected scenario would significantly aggravate Lazio’s present medical predicament as there are currently over 186,000 Covid cases in the region (nearly 800 patients are receiving treatment in local hospitals). 

Italian rock band Maneskin performing in Turin

Italian rock band Maneskin are expected to perform at the Circus Maximus in Rome on Saturday, July 9th. Photo by Marco BERTORELLO / AFP

But, despite pleas to postpone the event, it is likely that Maneskin’s concert will take place as scheduled.

Alessandro Onorato, Rome’s Tourism Councillor, said that rescheduling is “out of question” and that “all recommendations from the local medical authorities will be adopted” with the help of the event’s organisers and staff on the ground.

At the time of writing, there is also no indication that the Italian government will consider postponing other major live events scheduled to take place in the coming weeks, though the situation is evolving rapidly and a U-turn on previous dispositions can’t be ruled out.

READ ALSO: At a glance: What are the Covid-19 rules in Italy now?

On this note, it is worth mentioning that Italy has now scrapped all of its former Covid measures except the requirement to wear FFP2 face masks on public transport (though not on planes) and in healthcare settings.

The use of face coverings is, however, still recommended in all crowded areas, including outdoors – exactly the point that leading Italian doctors are stressing in the hope that live events will not lead to large-scale infection.

Antonio Magi, President of Rome’s OMCEO (College of Doctors, Surgeons and Dentists), said: “Our advice is to wear FFP2 masks […] in high-risk situations.”

“I hope that young people will heed our recommendations and think about the health risks that their parents or grandparents might be exposed to after the event [they attend].”

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