European lockdowns spark fears of ‘new Covid variant’ fuelling surge in cases

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Europe is ramping up testing of new COVID variants as cases rise across the continent.

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It comes after several European countries slapped lockdown-style restrictions on citizens as the Christmas period nears.

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A demonstration in Vienna two days before Austria’s fourth national lockdowncredit: Rex

Experts say the new Covid wave spreading across the continent could potentially be the result of a more latent strain of coronavirus.

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But the growth pressure on the virus – from new cases and vaccinations – could also force a new strain to emerge.

Called “selection pressure,” this occurs when increasing immunity in a population favors a new type that can evade the body’s defenses.

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Dr Andrea Ammon, director of the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), said countries in Europe are ramping up virus sequencing efforts to address the risk.

Asked if he was concerned about the emergence of a new variant, Dr Ammon told BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show: “There is high transmission going on right now, there is always the risk of a new variant, yes.

“So we’re monitoring really very closely, we’re supporting countries in ramping up their sequencing efforts to make sure that if there’s a type, it’s detected very early.”

EU Commissioner for Economics and Taxation Paolo Gentiloni said Europe should be careful about a possible new variant in the region.

He said, according to CNBC: “It’s still a pandemic. We must be very cautious on possible new forms and we need to strengthen vaccination.

A cluster of cases of the new variant with a never-before-seen mutation made headlines across Europe last week.

french paper telegram reported that a new variant – called B.1.X or B.1.640 – had some changes in the spike protein that scientists had not previously observed.

Professor Cyril Cohen of Bar-Ilan University in Israel told Jerusalem Post that the B.1.640 version probably came from Africa.

“I don’t want to scare people,” he said. “There are only a few cases of B.1.640 right now and it may very well be that in a month we can all forget about this type.

“But this is an example of what can happen if there is no access to vaccines for everyone.

“This version is an example of how if you leave some of the world’s population without access to vaccines, the virus will continue to multiply and it will lead to more forms.”

Protests suddenly erupted in countries including Austria, Switzerland, Croatia, Italy and the Netherlands over new COVID restrictions, mandatory jabs and vaccine “passports”.

Violence erupted in Brussels after 35,000 people gathered to protest, while water cannons were used to disperse the crowd in the Netherlands.

It came as people in Austria learned they would be put back into a nationwide lockdown from Monday, and fresh slaps on unvaccinated Germans.

Both countries are on the path of introducing compulsory vaccines, fueling the fury.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said that Europe is the only region in the world where there was an increase in Covid-related deaths last week.

If nothing is done, then by February 5 lakh more people have been warned of death.

While about 60 percent of people in Western Europe are completely against COVID, including 80 percent of Britons, only about half of people in the Eastern part are vaccinated.

The WHO said last week that most new cases were in Russia, Germany and the UK.

UK next?

But the UK is “already ahead” of the wave in Europe, said Professor Sir Andrew Pollard, one of those behind the creation of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine.

He claimed that it is “unlikely” that the UK will see a growth similar to that of parts of Europe, stating

He told BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show: “We’ve actually had some spread (of the virus) since the summer, and so I think it’s unlikely that we’re going to see a very sharp increase in the next few months. Just seen.

“We are already ahead with this particular virus, the delta variant.”

Prof Pollard said the coronavirus remains “a major global public health problem” but in the UK “the balance is changing because of the vaccine program that is in place”.

Other experts watching the events in Europe said it “could come to that” in the UK.

Professor John Ashton, former regional director of public health for the North West of England, told Good Morning Britain on Friday: “There are still millions of people who have not been double vaccinated in the UK.

“And that’s a problem because the virus is still circulating, and when the virus is circulating, there is the potential for more mutations.”

Linda Bould, professor of public health at the University of Edinburgh, said while the picture remains “precarious”, there are a number of factors that could help the UK avoid a situation seen in other countries.

She told Sky’s Trevor Phillips on Sunday’s event: “We dealt with our delta wave in the summer and early autumn. We’re definitely still in it but they’re not big rises.

“And then there are other features around, unfortunately, because we’ve had higher infections in the past, we probably have a little bit more natural immunity in the population — such as in immunity after infection, especially for younger groups that haven’t.” Eligible for vaccines.”

He said the vaccine rollout is also slightly different in that in many European countries the dose difference between the first and second doses was smaller than in the UK.

But he added that “there is indeed an element of serious concern in trying to determine whether there are differences of opinion in the situation in Europe, or whether it is only a matter of time until it is revealed to us”.

Professor Bould said taking booster offers and continuing to exhibit cautious behavior will help avoid a “disaster” over winter and a repeat of last Christmas.

Bookings for booster jabs are opening in England this week for people aged 40 and over.

Children of 16 and 17 years will also be able to book for their second job from Monday.

The health secretary said it is the vaccine programme, rather than immunity from infection, that means British people are more protected from the Covid-19 winter wave than other European countries.

Sajid Javid said the country is “firmly” sticking to Plan A at the moment – but ministers should “be cautious, not complacent” as the virus spreads across Europe.

We are sticking firmly to Plan A, insists Sajid Javid, as cases continue to rise in Europe despite COVID panic

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