Europe records 1 million new COVID-19 cases in a week , ending a six-week decline in new infections. The WHO says coronavirus variants are causing damage across the continent.

Europe has recorded 1 million new COVID-19 cases in a week, ending a six-week decline in new infections.
Key points:

  • The UK variant is spreading in 27 European countries, and is dominant in at least 10
  • The South African variant has been detected in 26 European countries
  • The Brazilian variant has been detected in 15 countries across Europe

The World Health Organisation (WHO) says coronavirus variants first identified in South Africa, the United Kingdom and Brazil are powering the uptick in infections across the continent.
WHO’s regional director for Europe, Hans Kluge, added on Thursday that the increase up 9 per cent last week from the previous week was also being driven by “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: the UK, Denmark, Italy, Ireland, Germany, France, the Netherlands, Israel, Spain and Portugal.
WHO experts warn it is up to 50 per cent more transmissible than the virus that surged last European spring and again in the autumn, making it more adept at thwarting measures that were previously effective.
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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.
After putting two provinces and some 50 towns on a modified lockdown, Lombardy’s regional governor announced tightened restrictions last week 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.
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The situation is dire in the Czech Republic, which this week registered a record-breaking total of nearly 8,500 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 last month to 25 per cent now.
Dr Kluge cited the UK’s experience as a cause for optimism, noting that widespread restrictions and the introduction of the vaccine have helped suppress the variants there and in Israel.
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The vaccine rollout in the European Union, by comparison, is lagging badly, mostly because of supply problems.
In the UK, 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 7,000 a day now.
Still, a study shows the rate of decline slowing, and the UK government says it will tread cautiously with plans to ease the lockdown.
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That process begins on Monday with the reopening of schools.
Infection rates are highest in people aged 13 to 17, and officials will watch closely to see whether the return to class brings a spike in infections.
WHO and its partners are working to strengthen the genetic surveillance needed to track variants across the continent.
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.
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