The World Health Organisation has set the alarm bells ringing with the not unfounded fear that half of Europe might be afflicted with coronavirus over the next six to eight weeks, close to two years after the contagion had spread across the world from Wuhan in China.
To summon the words of WHO, “a new west-to-east tidal wave is sweeping across the region”, not meteorologically but by the close-to-the-bone yardstick of public health. Hans Kluge, WHO’s regional director for Europe, has substantiated the finding ~ “The region saw over seven million cases of Covid-19 in the first week of 2022, more than doubling over a two-week period.” The data and the time-span are mind-boggling enough. This renders the continent of Europe second to the United States of America in terms of the spread of the dreaded illness.
No fewer than 26 countries in the European region have reported that more than one per cent of the population were being afflicted every week. This demonstrates the speed at which the virus is spreading. In parallel, there appears to be a difference of opinion over the efficacy of booster shots. In the reckoning of WHO, these could worsen vaccine equity around the world. Dr Kluge says, however, that booster shots play an essential role in protecting the most vulnerable from severe disease and ought also to be used to protect health workers and other essential staff, notably teachers. Indeed, a wave of infection is spreading from west to east and starting to hit nations with lower vaccination rates in the Balkans and eastern Europe.
Despite the widespread level of infection, coronavirus vaccines are remarkably effective at preventing severe illness and death. Dr Kluge said that in Denmark, the number of unvaccinated people who needed hospital care in the latest wave was six times higher than among vaccinated people. “For the countries not yet hit with the omicron surge, there is a closing window to act now and plan for contingencies.” For all that, Dr Kluge seemed to be in favour of keeping schools open. “Schools should be the last places to close and the first to reopen.” But that is easier said than done. The numbers of the infected are going to be so high in many places that schools in many countries will be unable to keep all classes open because of illness and staff shortage.
In France alone, 10,452 classes were cancelled on Monday, according to the French government. The Prime Minister, Jean Castex, said school children in the country would be allowed to conduct self-tests instead of a PCR test if one of their classmates tested positive. This surely is an attempt to keep the system of education functioning. Learning will continue in the midst of the overwhelming gloom and doom.