Europe ‘lost cows to build a barn’ before Omicron

Omicron cases have spiked in the UK and Denmark, raising concerns that Europe has been too slow to respond in an effort to prevent the mutation.

On December 5, the British health security agency recorded an additional 86 cases of Omicron infection, bringing the country’s total number of new mutant infections to 246, while Denmark detected 183 cases. Both European countries are considered leaders in genetic testing and sequencing to track the spread and mutation of the virus.

Dr. Peter J. Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, said that the number of confirmed Omicron cases today is still too small compared with about 44,000 new nCoV infections each day in the UK, mainly in the UK. being a Delta strain, it is difficult to determine the real threat of the new strain. However, he warned, if Omicron infections increase by 10% of Delta cases by the end of next week, the risk of this new strain becoming a global dominant strain replacing Delta is very high.

Many public health experts say travel restrictions in much of Europe are not enough to prevent Omicron from entering and spreading. Some European countries may be paying the price for not being vigilant, not imposing epidemic prevention measures such as wearing masks at home and social distancing, or not requiring people to isolate themselves at home if they have ever been in contact with others. infected case.

Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust and former member of the UK government’s scientific advisory council, in the above article Observer says the rise of Omicron is a sign that European countries are “squandering” the gains they have made in the fight against the pandemic.

According to him, rich countries have been “lulled to sleep” with the thought that the worst of the pandemic is over. “This mutation reminds us all that we are still closer to the beginning of the pandemic than the end,” Farrar said.

Medical staff take samples to test for Covid-19 at Schiphol Airport, Amsterdam, the Netherlands on November 30.  Photo: AFP.

Medical staff take samples to test for Covid-19 at Schiphol Airport, Amsterdam, the Netherlands on November 30. Photo: AFP.

The Omicron strain was first reported in southern Africa in late November and was later classified by the World Health Organization (WHO) as of concern. Scientists do not currently have solid data on Omicron’s ability to spread and virulence, nor how well it evades antibodies.

Since Omicron appeared, Europe and many countries around the world have immediately imposed travel restrictions with southern Africa to prevent the spread of the disease. However, some European governments are hesitant to impose domestic travel restrictions ahead of the Christmas and New Year holidays, after much of Europe went into lockdown last winter.

Instead, countries focus on restricting entry and requiring more testing of people coming from abroad. But many fear that these measures are too little and too late to stop Omicron.

“I think this could be a case of losing cows to build a barn,” said Mark Woolhouse, professor of infectious disease epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh and a government adviser. “It’s too late to make a difference to this Omicron wave.”

The British government has so far advised the public to continue with their normal lives with holiday plans, although it has urged people to step up booster vaccinations. British Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab called it “the surest protection”.

“Our message is to enjoy Christmas this year,” he said. “The vaccination campaign allows us to do that.”

Henrik Ullum, head of the Statens Serum Institute, Denmark’s public health agency, said concern was raised after more than 180 cases of the Omicron strain were recorded in the country.

“The chain of community transmission is ongoing,” Ullum said, as the country detected cases in people who had not recently traveled abroad or been in contact with foreign travelers.

Several European countries have recently stepped up social distancing measures amid an increase in the number of infections. Belgium asked everyone to work from home and ordered schools to close a week before Christmas. Italy bans unvaccinated people from participating in certain entertainment activities, while Ireland closes nightclubs and restricts gatherings.

Germany bans unvaccinated people from many public areas. The country, which has been reluctant to introduce coercive regulations during this pandemic, plans to make vaccinations mandatory next year, a sign of the seriousness of the situation.

Germany last week recorded an average of more than 53,000 new nCoV cases per day, up 9% from the average two weeks ago. The average daily death toll as of December 5 was 298, up 48% over the past two weeks. Germany reported its first confirmed and suspected cases of the Omicron strain late last week. The capital Berlin also appeared the first new case of infection on December 2.

Meanwhile, protests against restrictive measures have emerged in some countries. On December 4, tens of thousands of people in Austria protested for the second week in a row against the government’s decision to impose a strict new blockade and the government’s plan to make vaccinations mandatory.

People on Oxford Street, London, England on December 5.  Photo: Reuters.

People on Oxford Street, London, England on December 5. Photo: Reuters.

Experts have repeatedly warned European countries that they have not done their best to prevent Delta mutations. This week, they continue to issue those warnings and calls for action, as Omicron threatens Europe.

Michael Ryan, head of the WHO’s emergencies programme, said last week that European countries need to take more precautions during this period to protect their people.

“We’ll have to be a little patient to see the true impact of Omicron, but we are certainly dealing with a crisis. That crisis is happening in Europe and is fueled by mutations. Delta,” he said.

Ryan added that it’s time “for everyone to recommit to controlling a pandemic caused by so many variations of one virus.”

Thanh Tam (Follow NY Times)

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