Latest wave of COVID-19 intensifies in Europe and globally, powered by Omicron BA.4 and BA.5

At a press conference on Wednesday, amid the latest global spike in COVID-19 infections, World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned that “our ability to track the virus is at risk as reports and genomic sequences are in decline. , which means it is more difficult to track Omicron and analyze future emerging threats. This warning was issued as the highly infectious and immunoresistant Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants have become globally dominant and account for 55% of all international samples.

According to Our World in Data, the global seven-day moving average of new daily cases is approaching 750,000, nearly 60% above lows seen in the first week of June. Cases are rising in four of WHO’s six global regions: Europe, the Americas (including 24.6% in South America), Southeast Asia and the Eastern Mediterranean, with Europe recording the fastest growing during this period.

In the week ending June 20, 4.5 million new cases were officially recorded, a 23% increase from the previous week. COVID-19 deaths for the same week rose by more than 9,000, an increase of more than 8% and the first substantial jump since peaks in early February.

The new surge in cases must be seen in the context of the systemic and near-universal dismantling of all COVID-19 surveillance and data reporting, which means these numbers represent significant undercounts. In every country where COVID-19 infections are rising, test positivity rates are also skyrocketing. As of mid-June, over 41% of all COVID-19 tests in Germany were positive, while in France the figure is over 22%. Similar skyrocketing test positivity rates can be seen across Europe.

[Photo by Our World in Data / CC BY 4.0]

Another more precise measure of the actual spread of the virus, sewage sampling, shows record levels of viral transmission in Madrid, Spain. It comes as official cases represent less than a quarter of the record set in mid-January 2022.

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The surge is expected to intensify in the coming weeks and persist through the summer as the tourist season is in full swing. Talk with Agence France-Presse (AFP), WHO Regional Director for Europe, Dr Hans Kluge, said this week: “While countries in the European region have lifted social measures that were previously in place, the virus will be transmitted at high levels. during the summer. This virus will not go away just because countries stop looking for it. It’s still spreading, it’s still changing, and it’s still taking lives.

The comments are an about-face for Kluge, who welcomed the first wave of Omicron in January as a supposed harbinger of permanent immunity for the population. On January 24, 2022, he said: “It is plausible that the region is heading towards some kind of pandemic endgame. We anticipate there will be a period of calm before COVID-19 returns towards the end of the year, but not necessarily for the pandemic to return.

The 53 countries representing the WHO’s European region now average nearly 500,000 new official daily cases, representing a significant majority of current global infections, up from 150,000 daily infections at the end of May. Austria, Cyprus, France, Germany, Greece, Luxembourg and Portugal have recently recorded the highest case rates. Weekly deaths from COVID-19 across Europe now stand at around 2,500, comparable to figures recorded in the summer of 2020 before vaccines became available.

The current developments in Greece vividly illustrate what is unfolding across Europe and will soon happen in all other countries that have allowed the virus to spread out of control. As of Monday, the National Public Health Organization (EODY) reported nearly 7,700 cases of COVID-19, double the daily cases seen in early June. The following day, EODY said cases had exploded with more than 20,000 infections, with the seven-day rolling average reaching more than 13,000. Of these, around 15% represent reinfections.

EODY also noted that there were 16 other COVID-related deaths, with 95 patients in intensive care units. They are mostly people over the age of 70, and many have multiple underlying medical conditions predisposing them to serious manifestations. The death trend in Greece is on the rise again, even though more than 71% of the population is fully vaccinated. The elderly and debilitated will suffer the most from these flare-ups and reinfections, as their waning immunity to the virus puts them at higher risk than other demographic groups.

Likewise, the UK is experiencing a new wave of infections and hospitalizations. New official cases were up 34% from the previous week. According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), one in 30 people are now infected with COVID-19. Their data estimates that around 1.8 million people have been infected while 98% of the population had antibodies from a previous vaccination or infection. Scotland has been hardest hit by the current outbreak.

The seven-day average of people hospitalized with COVID in the UK has reached nearly 7,400, a 45% increase from lows reached in early June. The current inflow trend will soon approach the highs seen during the Delta wave.

Virologist Dr Stephen Griffin, associate professor of medicine at the University of Leeds, told the Financial Times, “Vaccines reduce severe disease, and waves like this don’t cause the same spikes in hospitalizations that we’ve seen, for example, with Alpha variants. However, the constant bombardment of waves we are witnessing has a clinical impact that should not be underestimated. »

Indeed, the clinical impact of Long COVID, or post-acute sequelae of COVID-19 (PASC), increases with each new wave of infections. This will have incalculable consequences on the overall health of the population, as the complex interaction between the virus and the various organ systems, including the brain and neurological systems, will accumulate.

The repeated mantra that the coronavirus only causes mild illness is increasingly belied by objective reality, in which mass infections and long-term weakening have deeply destabilized the global economy and led to a growing shortage of workforce internationally. The most visible manifestation at the moment is the large number of flight cancellations due to lack of staff at airports and airlines. Aviation consultancy Cirium reported that in June, the start of the summer season in Europe, 7,870 flights were canceled for departures from the UK, Germany, France, Italy and Italy. Spain only.

In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced on Wednesday that BA.4 (15.7%) and BA.5 (36.6%) now dominate all other variants across the country. This will likely lead to a new wave of infections in the coming weeks, as the seven-day average of new daily cases has plateaued at just over 100,000. The positivity rate in the United States has reached nearly 14%, while since mid-April, hospitalizations have more than doubled to an average of 33,600 admissions. Over the past two weeks, COVID-19-related deaths have increased nearly 50% to 380 per day, while estimates of daily excess deaths attributable to the pandemic now stand at 660 per day in the United States. United.

On Tuesday, an expert panel advised the FDA that COVID-19 booster shots should be updated to reflect circulating subvariants. As the New York Times carefully stated, “The panel vote paves the way for the FDA to push manufacturers to manufacture reformulated boosters in time for the Biden administration to offer them later this year, ahead of an expected winter surge,” which coincides with the midterm elections.

Moderna executives told the FDA panel that the vaccine maker would not be able to produce Omicron-specific vaccines until late October or early November, while Pfizer is committed to having those vaccines ready by early October. . FDA regulators have raised concerns that by the time such a vaccine specifically tailored to BA.4 and BA.5 is developed, it will already be obsolete. This underscores the fact that chasing the virus through a vaccine-only strategy is a futile game.

Infectious disease specialist Dr. Mark Sawyer of UC San Diego School of Medicine told the Time, “We are all troubled by the steady erosion of immune protection. We’re going to be behind the eight ball if we wait any longer. He added that “the bottom line right now is that manufacturers need to know what to put in their vaccine. Over the next few months, I think we’ll have an idea, and there’ll be plenty of time to debate who is the most appropriate booster.

However, potential BA.4/BA.5-specific boosters and next-generation therapies require funding for the Biden administration to bid on vendors. White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha said Wednesday: “There are new generations of treatments coming online, companies making them with very promising data. [However,] the US government and no one in the US negotiates with these companies for these treatments because we don’t have the resources. Yet there are plenty of resources to fund the US-NATO proxy in Ukraine against nuclear-armed Russia, and as President Joe Biden repeated on Thursday, to do so “for as long as it takes.”

Additionally, funding and research into pan-coronavirus and intranasal vaccines are urgently needed. However, these must be coordinated through a strategy that also ensures that non-pharmaceutical measures are taken to end the perpetual community transmission of the virus and prevent the development of new strains of coronavirus. These treatments should be prioritized for healthcare workers and patients in long-term care facilities, the elderly and essential workers, while air quality and ventilation infrastructure should be put in place accordingly. urgently.

There is no political trend apart from the International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI) calling for a coordinated strategy to eliminate the coronavirus in the world, which would prevent the unnecessary death and weakening of millions more people.

In a critical video published this week, Evan Blake, WSWS writer and coordinator of the global workers’ survey on the COVID-19 pandemic, offers a clear and concise overview of the current pandemic push and what needs to be done. done to stop him. We urge all of our readers to share this video as widely as possible in your workplaces and on social media, and heed its call to build a mass international movement to end the pandemic.

Mary I. Bruner