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Third COVID-19 wave threatens to grip Europe
Published in The Saudi Gazette on 15 - 03 - 2021

Italians are back under lockdown restrictions and millions have had their Easter plans canceled again, as leaders fight to halt a third wave of COVID-19 infections that threatens to grip Europe one year after the pandemic began.
In scenes eerily similar to last March — when Italy became the first European country to restrict people's movement as the coronavirus ran rampant — citizens were banned from traveling between regions from Monday and were told the entire nation would be considered a "red zone" over the Easter weekend.
Italy's new Prime Minister Mario Draghi had said the rules were necessary because "we are unfortunately facing a new wave of infections," a somber reality after 12 months of pandemic misery.
The restrictions mean that once again, many Italians can't celebrate Easter with their families. "I am aware that today's measures will have consequences on children's education, on the economy and also on the psychological state of us all," Draghi admitted last Friday, when the measures were passed by his Cabinet.
But the picture is similarly bleak across Europe, where several countries are scrambling to respond to an uptick in infections.
On Monday, Germany registered another increase in cases. In France, hospitalizations are again on the rise — and the situation became so stark in Paris over the weekend that leaders started evacuating around 100 COVID-19 patients from the region, citing increased pressure on hospitals.
The patients will be moved to "other regions where the situation in ICUs is less tense," French government spokesperson Gabriel Attal said on Sunday. Parisian hospitals were already canceling many surgeries to tackle the outbreak, with health minister Olivier Véran saying a coronavirus patient was being admitted to their intensive care units every 12 minutes.
The main cause of the wave of infections across the continent appears to be the more contagious coronavirus variant first identified in the UK; in France, the strand is now accounting for 66% of cases, according to the latest official data.
That variant caused havoc in Britain over Christmas and early in the new year, quickly adding to the UK's death toll, the highest in Europe at over 125,000 fatalities.
A stringent lockdown and a rapid vaccination drive has since combined to bring UK cases down dramatically and ease the pressure on hospitals.
But Europe is now bearing the brunt of the more infectious strand, and has been slower to get vaccines in arms than the UK. Its rollout of shots is now stumbling again, with around a dozen countries halting or altering their use of the Oxford-AstraZeneca shot, citing concerns over reports that it could be linked to blood clots, despite no clear evidence so far that this is the case.
AstraZeneca doubled down on the safety of its jab on Sunday, saying that a careful review of the 17 million people inoculated with it in the EU and Britain found again that there was "no evidence" of a link with clots.
It found that of those millions of people, there have been 15 events of deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and 22 events of pulmonary embolism reported after vaccination; lower than the number that would be expected to occur naturally within that population size.
Nonetheless, the death of one woman in Denmark — alongside a handful of non-fatal cases there and in Norway — has prompted a number of countries to pause their rollouts until reviews have been conducted. The Danish Medicines Agency said on Monday the woman in question had an "unusual" combination of symptoms before she died.
Over the weekend Ireland and the Netherlands joined the pack of countries pausing their use of the AstraZeneca vaccine. The chairwoman of Ireland's vaccination advisory committee said it took the step to "maintain confidence" in the country's inoculation program. The Dutch government said its move was "precautionary" and would last for two weeks; this came just days after health minister Hugo de Jonge said there was "no cause for concern" over the shot.
The vaccine still has the confidence of the European Medicines Agency, which said on Thursday the benefits of using it outweigh the risks and that there was "no indication" the shot caused blood clotting in the handful of people who reported it.
The UK has by far led the way in administering the AstraZeneca vaccine, with more than 11 million people receiving a dose, and it too has stood by the shot. Real-world data from the country has also shown it is having a significant impact in reducing COVID-19 hospitalizations.
A single dose of the vaccine reduces the risk of hospitalization from Covid-19 by more than 80% in people aged over 80, data from Public Health England showed earlier this month. The vaccine is given in two doses, though countries differ in how far apart they are spreading those shots. — Courtesy CNN

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