Calls for more restrictions as deadly COVID strains see infections soar

As the World Health Organisation issued warnings of the spiralling COVID infections in Europe the Australian chief medical officer has called on the country to return to restrictions outside of the home to stem the rise in cases.

The WHO has warned that coronavirus cases have tripled across Europe in the past six weeks, accounting for nearly half of all infections globally. Hospitalisation rates have also doubled, although intensive care admissions have remained low.

The organisation’s Europe director Dr. Hans Kluge described COVID-19 as “a nasty and potentially deadly illness” that people should not underestimate.

“With rising cases we´re also seeing a rise in hospitalisations, which are only set to increase further in the autumn and winter months,” Kluge added. “This forecast presents a huge challenge to the health workforce in country after country, already under enormous pressure dealing with unrelenting crises since 2020.”

He warned super-infectious strains of the omicron variant were creating new waves of infections across the continent warning repeat infections could potentially lead to long COVID.

It came as Australia’s Chief Medical Officer, Professor Paul Kelly urged Australians to get a fourth booster dose if eligible and to resume wearing masks outside of the home and in public spaces.

He said: “Australia is experiencing a significant increase in cases of the new BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants of the COVID-19 Omicron strain.

“These variants are highly infectious and have an ability to evade the immune protection from either previous infection or vaccine. Although three or four doses of vaccine remain very effective at providing protection against severe disease from BA.4 and BA.5, vaccination alone is not effective at stopping infection or transmission of the virus from person to person.

“All indications, including previous experience with the BA.1 Omicron variant in Australia in January this year, as well as recent experience with the BA.4 and BA.5 variants in other countries, along with our weekly forecasting reports, suggest that cases will continue to rise in Australia over the coming month.”

Kelly added:  “We cannot stop this wave of infections, but we can slow the spread and protect the vulnerable. We have done this before and we can do it again. In fact, a range of measures and advice provided in the past two weeks gives us a clear, scientifically-based path to achieve these dual aims.

“The Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) has reiterated its advice on reinfection periods, testing and isolation, mask wearing, vaccine boosters and treatments and called on employers to allow work from home if feasible.”

“Reducing the impact of COVID-19 is a shared responsibility for everyone. We can all play a role in protecting ourselves and our loved ones, our hospitals and the wider health system, those most at risk, and society as a whole,” he added.

It comes as a UK national COVID-19 vaccine study is urging more pregnant women join hundreds of other volunteers and help researchers discover the most effective use of booster vaccines during pregnancy.

The Preg-CoV study currently has around 300 pregnant women taking part nationally. It aims to determine the best vaccine schedules and doses to protect women and their babies against COVID-19.

The study, led by researchers at St George’s, University of London, compares vaccines currently being used for the UK vaccination programme (Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna) as well as new vaccines as they are approved for use, such as Novavax.

Professor Paul Heath, Chief Investigator and Professor of Paediatric Infectious Diseases at St George’s, University of London, said: “More than 300,000 pregnant women have now been vaccinated with COVID-19 vaccines in the UK, the USA and elsewhere, with no major safety concerns reported. But we do not yet know the optimal schedule to use or the optimal booster dose to use for pregnant women and their babies and this is what we are addressing in this study.

“We are delighted that around 300 pregnant women have joined the study so far, but we need even more pregnant women across the country to participate. Not only will they receive special monitoring and support around their vaccines, but they will help shape future guidelines and protect pregnant women in the future. It is a really worthwhile, helpful thing to do.”