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COVID-19 STATS

Covid cases on the rise in Europe once again as WHO warns of Euro 2020 risk

The World Health Organization on Thursday said Covid cases were on the rise again in Europe and called for better monitoring of the movement of spectators attending Euro 2020 football matches.

Covid cases on the rise in Europe once again as WHO warns of Euro 2020 risk
Germany supporters react after England scored during the UEFA EURO 2020 round of 16 football match between England and Germany at the Grugapark in Essen, western Germany, on June 29, 2021. Ina Fassbender / AFP

“There will be a new wave in the WHO European Region unless we remain disciplined,” WHO’s regional director for Europe, Hans Kluge, told a press conference.

Noting that cases had declined for 10 weeks in the WHO’s European region, Kluge said that “last week, the number of cases rose by 10 percent, driven by increased mixing, travel, gatherings and easing of social restrictions.”

Kluge cautioned this reversal came in the context of rising cases of the Delta variant, first spotted in India, which the regional director said “overtakes Alpha very quickly,” referring to the variant that first emerged in Britain.

A report by the EU’s disease control agency ECDC estimated the more contagious Delta variant could account for 90 percent of new cases in the EU by the end of August.

Kluge also said that the Delta variant could become the dominant strain in WHO’s European region, which is made up by 53 countries and territories — including several in Central Asia — by August.

However, by then, “the region will not be fully vaccinated,” Kluge said.

Around 63 percent of people “are still waiting for their first jab”, he said, even though the region “will still be mostly restriction-free” by that point.

Vaccines have been shown to also protect against the Delta variant, but a high level of protection requires two doses.

Kluge said that the average vaccine coverage in the WHO’s European region was 24 percent, but half of elderly people and 40 percent of healthcare workers were still unprotected.

“That is unacceptable, and that is far from the recommended 80 percent coverage of the adult population,” Kluge said.

‘Super-spreader’

Asked about whether the Euro championship was potentially acting as a “super-spreader” event, Kluge replied: “I hope not… but this can’t be excluded.”

The UN organisation called for better monitoring of spectators, including before they arrive and after they leave stadiums.

“We need to look much beyond just the stadia themselves,” Catherine Smallwood, Senior Emergency Officer at WHO’s European office, said when asked about recommendations in the face of rising cases in London and Saint Petersburg.

The British capital is due to host the semi-finals and final of the tournament next week, while the Russian city will host the quarter-final between Switzerland and Spain on Friday.

Azerbaijan’s capital Baku will host the game between Denmark and the Czech Republic on Saturday.

Hundreds of cases have been detected among spectators attending Euro matches, including Scots returning from London, Finns returning from Saint Petersburg and carriers of the more contagious Delta variant in Copenhagen.

“What we need to look at is around the stadia. How are people getting there? Are they travelling in large crowded convoys of buses? Are they taking individual measures when they are doing that?” Smallwood said.

She also added that it was also important to look at what was happening after the games, for instance if fans gathered in crowded bars.

“Should this mixing happen, there will be cases,” she said.

The WHO also called for vigilance around all major summer gatherings, not just around football games.

“What we know is that in a context of increasing transmission, large mass gatherings can act as amplifiers in terms of transmission,” Smallwood said.

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COVID-19

Austria in shock over doctor’s suicide following anti-vax abuse

Austrians expressed shock and anger this week over the suicide of doctor who had been the target of a torrent of abuse and threats from anti-vaccination protesters.

Austria in shock over doctor's suicide following anti-vax abuse

The bells of Vienna’s St. Stephen’s Cathedral rang out in memory of Lisa-Maria Kellermayr on Monday, and hundreds of people held a candle vigil outside, after the 36-year-old doctor was found dead at her practice on July 29.

She had long been the target of death threats because of her criticism of the widespread anti-lockdown protests of 2021.

An autopsy later confirmed that Kellermayr had taken her own life.

Austria has found itself deeply polarised over coronavirus restrictions and in particular a government policy –subsequently dropped — of making vaccination against the coronavirus compulsory.

Kellermayr — whose practice was in the region of Upper Austria where immunisation rates are particularly low — had frequently complained of the menace.

“For more than seven months, we have been receiving… death threats from those opposed to coronavirus measures and vaccinations,” she wrote at the time, sharing a message from one internet user who said they would pose as a patient in order to attack her and her staff.

She described how she had “invested more than 100,000 euros” ($102,000) in measures to ensure her patients’ safety and was on the brink of bankruptcy.

Then, at the end of June, Kellermayr announced on her professional website that she would not be seeing patients until further notice.

Daniel Landau, who organised a memorial vigil for her in Vienna, said that Kellermayr had become a virtual recluse for several weeks. “She didn’t dare to leave” her office, Landau told AFP.

Fanning the aggression

On Saturday, the head of Austria’s doctors’ association, Johannes Steinhart, said that while aggressive behaviour towards medical staff was not new, it had been “fired up and noticeably aggravated” by the debate over Covid-19 and vaccines.

The police, who had previously suggested Kellermayr was exploiting the situation for attention, insist they did everything to protect her. The local prosecutor’s office also rejected suggestions it could have done more.

“As soon as we received the police report (identifying one of the suspects), we sent it over to the relevant authorities in Germany,” spokesman Christoph Weber said.

On Friday, prosecutors in the neighbouring German state of Bavaria said a 59-year-old suspect was being investigated by a specialist hate speech unit.

At the beginning of the week, Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen visited the small town of Seewalchen where Kellermayr lived to lay flowers in her memory.

After news of her death broke, he had appealed to Austrians to “put an end to intimidation and fear”.

‘They’re gagging us’

But on some Telegram groups, the hateful messages continue.

“Some people are celebrating her death; others believe the vaccine killed her,” said Ingrid Brodnig, a journalist and author who investigates online disinformation.

“Stricts laws exist” already against online hate, but not enough is done to implement them, Brodnig said.

One government minister has floated the idea of a separate prosecutor’s office to target such cases. Doctors and researchers have also been targeted elsewhere.

French infectious disease specialist, Karine Lacombe, described how she had been vilified for her work as part of a collective of doctors combatting coronavirus-related disinformation.

She, too, complained that the response from the authorities in the face of threats was not robust enough, and has scaled down her public appearances this year.

“You end up thinking that the risk isn’t worth it,” she told AFP. “In that sense (the aggressors) have won, they are gagging us,” she said.

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