Europe reached the grim milestone of 1.5 million deaths from the coronavirus on Thursday as countries scramble to deal with an ever-worsening crisis as winter approaches.
In response, France accelerated the rollout of the COVID booster and Germany, with an increase in fatalities and infections, considered new measures.
As the world braced itself for the full onslaught of yet another wave, the EU medicines agency has approved a vaccine for children as young as five.
But South Africa reported a new troubling COVID-19 variant with devastating potential, the EU Medicines Agency has approved a vaccine for children as young as five.
In Paris, Health Minister Olivier Veran said COVID-19 booster shots, until now only available to those over 65 or with health problems, would be accessible to all adults from this weekend.
From January 15, people over the age of 18 must be able to show proof of a supplemental vaccine dose to maintain a valid COVID pass, which is required to enter restaurants, bars, gyms and other public locations.
The minister said the strict measure could help France through the fifth wave without resorting to another lockdown, which the government is desperately trying to avoid.
To ramp up the pressure, the European Commission advised that the block’s vaccination certificate should become invalid once the holder’s last dose is more than nine months old.
The number of daily new cases in France hit a seven-month high of 32,591 on Wednesday, but the burden of critical hospital cases remains manageable – a fact experts have attributed to France’s energetic vaccination push.
Neighboring Germany, meanwhile, reported record coronavirus deaths and infections on Thursday as the total death toll surpassed 100,000 — an “uncanny milestone,” Bild said daily — just as a new government was preparing to replace Angela Merkel’s coalition.
Europe’s largest economy recorded 351 deaths from COVID in the past 24 hours, bringing the official death toll since the start of the pandemic to 100,119.
The weekly incidence also reached a record high of 419.7 new infections per 100,000 people, according to the Robert Koch Institute health bureau.
The spike in Germany came as Europe re-emerged as the epicenter of the pandemic, with the continent struggling in some countries with slow vaccine uptake, the highly contagious Delta strain, colder weather sending people indoors, and easing of the restrictions.
An AFP tally of official figures showed on Thursday that more than 1.5 million people have died from COVID-19 in Europe.
Merkel’s heir presumptive Olaf Scholz outlined a roadmap on Wednesday by announcing new measures to tame the fourth wave.
These include forming a corona response task force in his office and bonuses for overworked health workers.
However, measures announced last week to limit the participation of unvaccinated in public life have already come under fire.
“The latest decisions are like announcing a plan to hire more swimming instructors and hand out a few water wings and rubber ducks during a flood disaster,” bellowed the Süddeutsche newspaper.
The German health sector has enlisted the help of hospitals elsewhere in the EU. Some clinics are already dealing with an “acute overload,” said Gernot Marx, head of the German Interdisciplinary Association for Intensive Care and Emergency Medicine.
Germany last week began requiring people to prove they have been vaccinated, have recovered from COVID-19 or have recently tested negative before they can travel on public transport or enter the workplace.
Several of the worst-hit areas have moved on, with Christmas markets canceled and unvaccinated people denied access to bars, gyms and leisure facilities.
The COVID-19 crisis in Germany is partly due to the relatively low vaccination rate of about 69 percent, compared to other Western European countries such as France, where it is 75 percent.
A booster shot campaign has been marred by delivery and logistical issues.
In an indication of what’s to come, scientists in South Africa said Thursday they had discovered a new COVID-19 variant with multiple mutations, blaming them for an increase in infections.
The variant, which has the scientific lineage number B.1.1.529, “has a very high number of mutations,” said virologist Tulio de Oliveira.
For Health Secretary Joe Phaahla, the variant was “serious concern” and behind an “exponential” increase in the number of cases.
Back in Europe, the Pfizer/BioNTech shot was given the go-ahead for five to 11-year-olds, paving the way for vaccination in an age group where the virus is spreading rapidly, aligning the EU with the US, Israel and Canada.
The European Medicines Agency, which used the brand name of the shot, said that “Comirnaty’s benefits in children aged five to 11 outweigh its risks”.
France opts for 3rd shots, not lockdown, to fight new wave
© 2021 AFP
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