The virus swept through a preschool and an adjoining primary school in Milan’s suburb of Bollate at fantastic speed. In just a few days, 45 children and 14 employees had tested positive.
Genetic analysis confirmed what officials already suspected: The highly contagious coronavirus variant first identified in England competed through the community, a nearly 40,000 city packed with a chemical plant and Pirelli’s bicycle tire factory a 15-minute drive from the heart of Milan.
“This is the demonstration that the virus has a kind of intelligence. We can set up all the barriers in the world and imagine that they work, but in the end it adapts and penetrates them, ” complained Bollate Mayor Francesco Vassallo.
Bollate was the first city in Lombardy, the northern region that has been the epicenter of each of Italy’s three ascents, which was shut down by neighbors due to mutant versions that the World Health Organization says are now driving a further rise in infections across Europe. The variants also include versions that were first identified in South Africa and Brazil.
Europe registered 1 million new COVID-19 cases last week, a 9% increase from the previous week and a reversal that ended a six-week decline, the WHO said on Thursday.
“The spread of the variants drives the increase, but not only,” says Dr. Hans Kluge, WHO’s Regional Director for Europe, also “quotes the opening of society when it is not done in a safe and controlled way. ”
The so-called UK variant spreads considerably in 27 European countries monitored by the WHO and dominates in at least ten of the agency’s numbers: the United Kingdom, Denmark, Italy, Ireland, Germany, France, the Netherlands, Israel, Spain and Portugal.
It is up to 50% more transmissible than the virus that rose in the spring and again in the autumn, making it more skilled at counteracting measures that were previously effective, WHO experts warned.
“That’s why health systems are struggling more now,” Kluge said. “It really is at a tipping point. We have to keep the fort and be very vigilant. ”
In Lombardy, which was the focus of Italy’s spring flood last year, intensive care units are being refilled as more than two-thirds of the new positive tests are of the British variant, health officials said this week.
After placing two provinces and some 50 cities in a modified lockdown, Lombardy’s regional governor announced stricter restrictions on Friday and closed classrooms to all age groups. Cases in schools in Milan alone increased by 33% in one week, says the head of the regional health care system.
The situation is serious in the Czech Republic, which registered a record number of almost 8,500 patients in the hospital with COVID-19 this week. Poland is opening temporary hospitals and facing a partial shutdown as the variant has grown from 10% of all infections in February to 25% now.
Kluge cited the UK’s experience as a cause for optimism and noted that well-considered restrictions and the introduction of the vaccine have helped to tame the variants there and in Israel. In comparison, vaccine development in the European Union is lagging behind, mainly due to delivery problems.
In the UK, the emergence of the more transmissible strain sent momentum into motion in December, triggering a national shutdown in January. Cases have since fallen, from about 60,000 per day at the peak in early January to about 7,000 a day.
A study still shows that the rate of decline is slowing down, and the government says it will tread carefully with plans to facilitate locking. The process begins on Monday with the resumption of schools. The degree of infection is highest in people between the ages of 13 and 17, and officials will follow closely to see if returning to class results in increased infections.
South Africa variant
While the British variant is dominant in France and forces locking in the French Riviera Nice and the northern port of Dunkirk, the variant first discovered in South Africa has emerged as the most common in the Moselle region, which borders Germany and Luxembourg. It represents 55% of the virus circulating there.
The South African variety is also dominant in a district in Austria that stretches from Italy to Germany, with Austrian officials announcing plans to vaccinate most of the 84,000 inhabitants to limit the spread. Austria also requires motorists along the Brenner motorway, a major north-south trucking company, to produce negative test results.
The South African variant, now available in 26 European countries, is a source of particular concern due to doubts as to whether the current vaccines are fully effective against it. The Brazilian variety, which seems to be able to re-infect humans, has been discovered in 15 European countries.
‘People start to get tired’
WHO and its partners are working to strengthen the genetic monitoring needed to track variants across the continent.
The mayor of Bollate has appealed to the regional governor to vaccinate all 40,000 residents immediately, although he expects to know that the supply is too tight right now.
Bollate has registered 3,000 positive cases and 134 deaths – mostly among the elderly – since Italy was hit a year ago. It took its toll in November and December, during the resurgence of autumn, and was completely caught by the guard when the variant arrived and competed through school-age children before hitting families at home.
“People start to get tired after there is no light at the end of the tunnel after a year,” said Vassallo.