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COVID-19 STATS

Covid cases on the rise in Europe once again as WHO warns of Euro 2020 risk

The World Health Organization on Thursday said Covid cases were on the rise again in Europe and called for better monitoring of the movement of spectators attending Euro 2020 football matches.

Covid cases on the rise in Europe once again as WHO warns of Euro 2020 risk
Germany supporters react after England scored during the UEFA EURO 2020 round of 16 football match between England and Germany at the Grugapark in Essen, western Germany, on June 29, 2021. Ina Fassbender / AFP

“There will be a new wave in the WHO European Region unless we remain disciplined,” WHO’s regional director for Europe, Hans Kluge, told a press conference.

Noting that cases had declined for 10 weeks in the WHO’s European region, Kluge said that “last week, the number of cases rose by 10 percent, driven by increased mixing, travel, gatherings and easing of social restrictions.”

Kluge cautioned this reversal came in the context of rising cases of the Delta variant, first spotted in India, which the regional director said “overtakes Alpha very quickly,” referring to the variant that first emerged in Britain.

A report by the EU’s disease control agency ECDC estimated the more contagious Delta variant could account for 90 percent of new cases in the EU by the end of August.

Kluge also said that the Delta variant could become the dominant strain in WHO’s European region, which is made up by 53 countries and territories — including several in Central Asia — by August.

However, by then, “the region will not be fully vaccinated,” Kluge said.

Around 63 percent of people “are still waiting for their first jab”, he said, even though the region “will still be mostly restriction-free” by that point.

Vaccines have been shown to also protect against the Delta variant, but a high level of protection requires two doses.

Kluge said that the average vaccine coverage in the WHO’s European region was 24 percent, but half of elderly people and 40 percent of healthcare workers were still unprotected.

“That is unacceptable, and that is far from the recommended 80 percent coverage of the adult population,” Kluge said.

‘Super-spreader’

Asked about whether the Euro championship was potentially acting as a “super-spreader” event, Kluge replied: “I hope not… but this can’t be excluded.”

The UN organisation called for better monitoring of spectators, including before they arrive and after they leave stadiums.

“We need to look much beyond just the stadia themselves,” Catherine Smallwood, Senior Emergency Officer at WHO’s European office, said when asked about recommendations in the face of rising cases in London and Saint Petersburg.

The British capital is due to host the semi-finals and final of the tournament next week, while the Russian city will host the quarter-final between Switzerland and Spain on Friday.

Azerbaijan’s capital Baku will host the game between Denmark and the Czech Republic on Saturday.

Hundreds of cases have been detected among spectators attending Euro matches, including Scots returning from London, Finns returning from Saint Petersburg and carriers of the more contagious Delta variant in Copenhagen.

“What we need to look at is around the stadia. How are people getting there? Are they travelling in large crowded convoys of buses? Are they taking individual measures when they are doing that?” Smallwood said.

She also added that it was also important to look at what was happening after the games, for instance if fans gathered in crowded bars.

“Should this mixing happen, there will be cases,” she said.

The WHO also called for vigilance around all major summer gatherings, not just around football games.

“What we know is that in a context of increasing transmission, large mass gatherings can act as amplifiers in terms of transmission,” Smallwood said.

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COVID-19 STATS

MAP: Where are Covid infection rates rising fastest in Italy?

Covid numbers throughout Italy have risen in recent weeks, with the regions of Lombardy and Veneto reporting particularly high infection rates. We look at the latest stats and explore what they mean.

MAP: Where are Covid infection rates rising fastest in Italy?

What’s the overall picture?

Italy’s Covid infection rate continues to rise, although at a slower rate this week.

The health ministry recorded 58,360 new cases in the past 24 hours on Tuesday night, down from the 65,925 seen last Tuesday, which was the peak of the autumn wave so far.

Some 329,569 tests were recorded in 24 hours, with the test positivity rate rising from 16 to 17.7 percent in a week.

Meanwhile the numbers of recorded hospitalisations and fatalities also continue to rise.

Infection rates have been rising in Italy since the start of October. Health experts said this increase was expected after the mass return to work and school in September after the summer holidays.

As has been the case throughout the pandemic, the situation is not the same across the country. Regions are reporting significant variations in infection rates.

Which regions are worst affected?

Analysis of official data this week showed that the sharpest increases over the past two weeks in percentage terms were in Valle d’Aosta, Emilia Romagna, and Sardinia

However the highest numbers of cases overall were in the most populous of Italy’s northern regions, as has been the case since the start of the pandemic.

Numbers are much lower in southern regions, though in some cases are high in percentage terms relative to the population.

Italy is currently recording around 40,000 new Covid cases per day, around 7,700 of which are in the region of Lombardy, around Milan, and some 5,000 in Veneto, of which Venice is the capital.

Piedmont, Emilia-Romagna and Tuscany follow, as the map below shows.

Veneto has the higher rate of cases per 100,000 people, at 104, while Lombardy’s rate stands at 79.

The region with the highest number of cases per 100,000 people overall was neighbouring Trentino-Alto-Adige, with 131, which represents 1,405 new daily cases on average.

In percentage terms over the past two weeks, cases in Veneto rose by +63 percent, in Lombardy +84 percent, and Trentino-Alto-Adige +68.

The small region of Valle d’Aosta recorded the highest percentage increase in cases, at +186, which amounts to around 118 new infections per day.

In the same time frame, the sparsely populated southern region of Basilicata had the smallest increase at +29 percent, followed by Abruzzo with +40.

The graph below shows the relationship between cases per 100,000 inhabitants and the percentage increase in cases.

The positioning of the regions are indicative of the incidence rate per 100,000 over the past two weeks, shown on the horizontal axis, and the percentage increase in cases in the past week.

What do the rising numbers mean for Italy?

As has been the case throughout the pandemic, the number of serious cases resulting in hospitalisations, intensive care referrals, and deaths has risen a couple of weeks after the increase in ne

Many medical experts have said that, with more than 90 percent of the Italian population vaccinated, they expect most people to experience mild cases of Covid this autumn and winter.

The main concern related to rising Covid numbers is that rising infection rates will mean staff shortages in hospitals and other critical services.

People still have to isolate for at least five days or a maximum of 14 days in Italy if they get a positive test result.

At the time of writing, Italy is days away from forming a new government following elections last month and a new health minister could mean a different approach to managing the pandemic.

It’s not known whether the new Italian government will consider bringing back any health restrictions if case numbers continue to rise.

However, the far-right Brothers of Italy party, which won elections on September 25th, said this week it is still against the reintroduction of Italy’s green pass health certificate or any vaccination requirements.

Under the outgoing government, the most recent updates from the health ministry confirmed that it continues to monitor the situation and advised those in vulnerable groups, including the over-60s, to get a booster jab this winter.

Find a guide to booking a Covid-19 booster jab in each region of Italy here.

You can follow The Local’s news updates on the Covid-19 situation in Italy here.

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