A fresh autumn wave of COVID-19 infections has begun in many European countries, and experts are calling for strengthened vaccination efforts and tighter health measures as cases are set to keep rising this winter.
Greece confirmed 55,242 cases in the week of Oct. 10-16, an increase of 8 percent compared to the previous week. Of the new weekly infections, 21 percent are reinfections, the National Public Health Organization reported Tuesday.
The report also said that during the week of Oct. 10-16, 1,351 COVID-19 patients were admitted to hospitals, up 23 percent compared to the previous week.
In the Netherlands, the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 has continued to rise, reaching its highest level since April 15. The National Institute for Public Health and the Environment said that new infections may rise sharply in the near future.
Finnish National radio Yle reported earlier this week that the current rate of deaths caused by COVID-19 in Finland is five times the EU average. So far in October, the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare has reported 261 deaths.
“Although we are not where we were one year ago, it is clear that the COVID-19 pandemic is still not over. We are unfortunately seeing indicators rising again in Europe,” said a joint statement released by European health agencies on Oct. 12.
“Preparedness measures need to continue in the European region, we should not let our guard down,” said a statement by World Health Organization (WHO) European Regional Director Hans Kluge, European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) Director Andrea Ammon and European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety Stella Kyriakides.
“The potential co-circulation of COVID-19 and seasonal influenza will put vulnerable people at increased risk of severe illness and death. Together with public health measures, vaccination remains one of our most effective tools against both viruses,” they said, urging countries to “prioritize protecting the most vulnerable groups by co-administering influenza and COVID-19 vaccines whenever feasible.”
On Monday, the Italian health ministry recommended the use of new bivalent COVID-19 vaccines for the third booster shot for vulnerable people, which should be administered 120 days after the second booster. The third booster shot is recommended for elderly people aged over 80, vulnerable people over 60, and residents of care homes.
In Belgium, health authorities have drawn up a winter plan to contain the latest wave. The plan is based on a new booster vaccination campaign, and the return of mask-wearing in certain places.
Vaccination is particularly recommended for people over 50, healthcare providers and immunocompromised people. Vaccination against influenza is also recommended before the virus returns in winter.
The Belgian plan also recommends that people with fragile health should wear FFP2 masks on public transport and in busy indoor places.
Since Sept. 14, the updated vaccines have been administered as booster shots to individuals in Greece, but according to health ministry data, just two in 10 people aged over 60 have had their second booster dose.
The slow pace has been attributed to generally relaxed concerns over COVID-19, despite health experts and scientists emphasizing that the pandemic is not yet finished.
Steve Russell, Britain’s National Health Service (NHS) director for vaccination and screening, said this winter “could be the first time we see the effects of the so-called ‘twindemic’ with both COVID-19 and flu in full circulation.”
Meanwhile, Dutch Health Minister Ernst Kuipers recently warned: “The current situation presents extra risks, especially for vulnerable groups of people. So stick to the basic advice and for the vulnerable: get the repeat vaccination shot to maintain your protection.” ■