World Watches UK COVID-19 Surge, and Parts of Europe Enter ‘Fourth Wave’
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the Covid-19 Vaccine Centre, Guy’s Hospital in central London earlier this year.

Amid soaring COVID-19 cases in the UK, the government is prioritising giving third booster shots to people as it banks on the country’s high COVID-19 vaccination rate being able to prevent severe illness and death.

Over the past week, COVID-19 cases in the UK increased by almost 18% – with 52,000 new cases confirmed on Thursday alone. 

COVID-19 deaths have also increased by almost 11% in the past week, and some medical experts believe that the country should consider returning to additional safety measures such as masks and social distancing.

However, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said this week that the pandemic’s current trajectory is not unexpected and has so far ruled out any additional measures to curb cases.

The UK has been counting on its high vaccination rate to enable its residents to live relatively normally alongside the virus, but its sheer volume of cases is starting to put pressure on the health system.

Almost 80% of Britons over the age of 12 are fully vaccinated, while around one in nine people – 5.3 million – have had booster shots.

During the current surge, around 2% of people infected have been hospitalised in comparison to 9% in January when vaccinations were less available. Around 14% of unvaccinated people with COVID-19 have ended up in hospital.

In last year’s peak (October – January) there were 2,7 million cases and 185,000 of these were hospitalised whereas in the current phase (July – October) around 3 million people have been infected yet only 79,000 people have ended up in hospital.

“The important thing is that is the fact that our vaccination programme has been successful in breaking the link between cases and hospitalisations and deaths,” said a UK government spokesperson this week. “Our focus remains on ensuring we get boosters out to those who are eligible.”

 

However, the UK Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) said that a higher death toll was unlikely, but SAGE warned that a variant of Delta becoming dominant is a very real possibility.

The UK Health Security Agency has designated the Delta mutation, known as AY.4.2, as a variant under investigation. By Wednesday, there there were 15,120 confirmed cases in England since it was first detected in July.

Fourth wave in Europe

Europe is the only World Health Organization (WHO) region to report an increase in cases for the third week in a row. Cases increased by 7% in the past week, exacerbated by colder weather driving more people indoors.

Cases in Belgium, Czechia, Hungary and Poland have increased by 50% over the past week, according to the WHO.

Belgian Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke said on Wednesday night that the country’s fourth wave had started, with the country experiencing over 3,200 new daily cases. Some 86% of Belgian adults have now been fully vaccinated.

Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo told VTM Nieuws this week that people might need to go back to wearing masks.

“The first priority must be to vaccinate those who have not been vaccinated as soon as possible. We are really monitoring the situation in detail to see if we need to intervene at a certain point,” De Croo added.

Poland is experiencing over 5000 new cases per day, the highest rate since May, and it has vaccinated 61% of its population.

 

Image Credits: Andrew Parsons / No 10 Downing Street.

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