“This demonstrates that the virus has a sort of intelligence. … We can put up all the barriers in the world and imagine that they work, but in the end, it adapts and penetrates them,” lamented Bollate Mayor Francesco Vassallo.
Bollate was the first city in Lombardy, the northern region that has been the epicentre in each of Italy’s three surges, to be sealed off from neighbours because of virus variants that the World Health Organisation says are powering another uptick in infections across Europe.
The variants also include versions first identified in South Africa and Brazil.
Europe recorded one million new COVID-19 cases last week, an increase of nine per cent from the previous week and a reversal that ended a six-week decline in new infections, WHO said Thursday.
“The spread of the variants is driving the increase, but not only,” said Dr Hans Kluge, WHO regional director for Europe, citing “also the opening of society, when it is not done in a safe and a controlled manner”.
The variant first found in the UK is spreading significantly in 27 European countries monitored by WHO and is dominant in at least 10 countries: Britain, Denmark, Italy, Ireland, Germany, France, the Netherlands, Israel, Spain and Portugal.
It is up to 50 per cent more transmissible than the virus that surged last spring and again in the northern autumn, making it more adept at thwarting measures that were previously effective, WHO experts warned.
Scientists have concluded that it is also more deadly.
“That is why health systems are struggling more now,” Dr Kluge said. “It really is at a tipping point. We have to hold the fort and be very vigilant.”
In Lombardy, which bore the brunt of Italy’s spring surge, intensive care wards are again filling up, with more than two-thirds of new positive tests being the UK variant, health officials said.
After putting two provinces and some 50 towns on a modified lockdown, Lombardy’s regional governor announced tightened restrictions on Friday and closed classrooms for all ages.
Cases in Milan schools alone surged 33 per cent in a week, the provincial health system’s chief said.
The situation is dire in the Czech Republic, which this week registered a record-breaking total of nearly 8500 patients hospitalised with COVID-19.
Poland is opening temporary hospitals and imposing a partial lockdown as the UK variant has grown from 10 per cent of all infections in February to 25 per cent now.
Two patients from hard-hit Slovakia were expected to arrive on Saturday for treatment in Germany, where authorities said they had offered to take in 10 patients.
Dr Kluge cited Britain’s experience as cause for optimism, noting that widespread restrictions and the introduction of the vaccine have helped tamp down the variants there and in Israel. The vaccine rollout in the European Union, by comparison, is lagging badly, mostly because of supply problems.
In Britain, the emergence of the more transmissible strain sent cases soaring in December and triggered a national lockdown in January.
Cases have since plummeted, from about 60,000 a day in early January to about 7000 a day now.
The South Africa variant, now present in 26 European countries, is a source of particular concern because of doubts over whether the current vaccines are effective enough against it. The Brazilian variant, which appears capable of reinfecting people, has been detected in 15 European countries.
WHO and its partners are working to strengthen the genetic surveillance needed to track variants across the continent.
The mayor of Bollate has appealed to the regional governor to vaccinate all 40,000 residents immediately, though he expects to be told the vaccine supply is too tight.
Bollate has recorded 3000 positive cases and 134 deaths — mostly among the elderly — since Italy was stricken a year ago.
It took the brunt in the resurgence in November and December, and was caught completely off guard when the UK variant arrived, racing through school-age children before hitting families at home.
“People are starting to get tired that after a year there is no light at the end of the tunnel,” Mr Vassallo said.
This content first appear on 9news