The forgotten pandemic?

Have we forgotten the COVID-19 pandemic already?

In London, from what I can see, there seems very little concern about transmission rates or hospitalisation rates. Let’s face it, mask wearing for most of us now is more a matter of social etiquette than it is one of genuine public health.

This is true for me, I must confess. At the moment I carry a mask with me, but really, I only put it on if I feel pressured to do so. I’m sure I’m not alone!

Yet as winter approaches, there is a real danger in such complacency, as it is known that the virus spreads faster in the winter months when people gather indoors.

Worryingly, coronavirus infections are now hitting record levels in many countries across Europe, prompting a call for action from the World Health Organisation, which has described the new wave as a “grave concern”.

Germany, Europe’s biggest economy, has reported 33,949 new infections, the highest daily increase since the start of the pandemic last year. Cases in Russia and Ukraine are soaring.

Indeed, soaring numbers of cases, especially in Eastern Europe, have prompted a renewed debate on whether to reintroduce curbs on movement before the Christmas holiday season and on how to persuade more people to get vaccinated.

The figures are concerning: Slovakia reported 6,713 new cases, also a record, while daily new cases in Hungary more than doubled from last week to 6,268. Poland, Eastern Europe’s biggest economy, reported 15,515 daily cases on Thursday, the highest figure since April. Croatia and Slovenia on Thursday have both recently reported record daily infections.

“The current pace of transmission across the 53 countries of the European Region is of grave concern,” regional WHO head Hans Kluge said, adding that the spread was exacerbated by the more transmissible Delta variant.

Kluge has previously warned that if Europe followed its current trajectory, there could be 500,000 COVID-related deaths in the region by February.

“We must change our tactics, from reacting to surges of COVID-19, to preventing them from happening in the first place,” he said.

This week and next, understandably, the media focus is very much on the success or otherwise of COP26 – but perhaps this winter we need to focus once again on short-term pandemic issues rather than long-term climate issues?

So far vaccination has proved a huge boon… but it’s not the panacea some people had hoped for.

And I’ve avoided mention of the ‘super-variant’ that the medical profession fears above all else…

Marcus Alcock

Editor, Emerging Risks

Follow us on twitter: @risksEmerging

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