European countries now battling Covid BA.2 variant lifted restrictions too ‘brutally,’ WHO warns


The coronavirus is back on the rise in 18 European countries, including the United Kingdom, France, Italy and Germany, Hans Kluge, WHO’s regional director for the continent, told reporters Tuesday.

He blamed in part a sudden change in policy in those nations, saying they lifted measures “brutally, from too much to too few.”

Many European countries reimposed tight restrictions on social gatherings after the emergence of the Omicron variant last year, only to drastically scale back early in 2022 when data showed that the strand was less severe than previous iterations.

Now, the BA.2 subvariant is spurring a new round of infections on the continent — while Kluge said he remains “optimistic, but vigilant” about the state of the pandemic on his patch.

His message also serves as a warning to the rest of the world. The BA.2 subvariant has halted the decline of infections in the United States, and is set to become the dominant source of Covid-19 cases there.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now estimates that 35% of new coronavirus cases are due to this subvariant. Restrictions are simultaneously being lifted, and not a single US state has mask mandates anymore (though face coverings are still required in some settings).

'No end is in sight.' Living with Covid means a life of lockdown for England's most vulnerable
So should people be adjusting their plans? Experts say no — because while BA.2 appears to be more infectious that the original Omicron variant, it doesn’t seem to be more severe. Researchers in the UK and Denmark have found that BA.2 causes a level of hospitalization similar to BA.1, which is already less likely to cause severe illness than the previously dominant Delta variant.

“Most people should not be worried,” added CNN Medical Analyst Dr. Leana Wen, an emergency physician and professor of health policy and management at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health.

“It’s likely that the US will see an increase in Covid-19 cases in the coming weeks, as this is the pattern we’ve seen before,” Wen said.

“Our government officials should prepare for what could be coming and increase the availability of tests and treatments, and continue to urge people to get vaccines and boosters. But I don’t think this is something that the general public should be overly concerned about at this time.”

YOU ASKED. WE ANSWERED.

Q: Will I need an annual Covid-19 vaccine?

Public health experts aren’t in agreement on what the future holds for Covid-19 vaccines — but some say it’s looking more and more likely that these shots could be needed on a yearly basis, similar to how flu shots are recommended each fall.

“I do anticipate that this will be required on a periodic basis to keep it under control,” said Dr. Archana Chatterjee, dean of the Chicago Medical School at Rosalind Franklin University.

The US Food and Drug Administration’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee is scheduled to meet April 6 to discuss the need for Covid-19 vaccine booster doses in the future, including how often they might be required — if at all.

Send your questions here. Are you a health care worker fighting Covid-19? Message us on WhatsApp about the challenges you’re facing: +1 347-322-0415.

READS OF THE WEEK

Living with Covid means a life of lockdown for England’s most vulnerable

Deepti Gurdasani has spent the past two years debunking Covid-19 myths and misinformation on TV and online. Her work as a clinical epidemiologist means she’s well-placed to talk about coronavirus. But she also has a deeply personal understanding of the pandemic’s dangers.

Gurdasani is one of 3.7 million people in England living with underlying diseases or pre-existing chronic health conditions. They were told by authorities to “shield” at home and minimize all face-to-face contact exactly two years ago on March 23 2020, as the UK went into its first lockdown at the start of the pandemic.

All remaining legal Covid-19 restrictions were scrapped in England last month as part of the British government’s “living with Covid plan.” But the experts CNN spoke to agree that high-risk groups should be prevented from getting Covid-19 in the first place, Isabelle Jani-Friend writes.

China’s zero-Covid policy is showing signs of strain. But ditching it now could be a disaster

Multiple outbreaks across China this month represented the largest surge in the country’s local infections since it brought its initial outbreak in Wuhan under control in early 2020, Simone McCarthy reports.

Authorities have spent two years focused on keeping Covid-19 out of China’s borders and quashing its spread. But now, as its defenses face the highly transmissible BA.2 subvariant for the first time, questions are being raised about the sustainability of “zero-Covid,” as experts say the country remains unprepared for the alternative of “living with the virus.”

China is battling this Covid-19 outbreak with low vaccination rates in the elderly, ailing health systems and a large percentage of the general population that have not been exposed to the virus.

‘This is just the start’: Research into Covid-19 opens doors to understanding other diseases and conditions

The billions of dollars invested in Covid vaccines and Covid-19 research so far are expected to yield medical and scientific dividends for decades, helping doctors battle influenza, cancer, cystic fibrosis, and many more diseases, Liz Szabo from Kaiser Health News reports.

“This is just the start,” said Dr. Judith James, vice president of clinical affairs for the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation. “We won’t see these dividends in their full glory for years.”

Building on the success of mRNA vaccines for Covid, scientists hope to create mRNA-based vaccines against a host of pathogens, including influenza, Zika, rabies, HIV and respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, which hospitalizes three million children under age 5 each year worldwide.

TOP TIP

Do you have a sore throat, a runny nose and muscle aches? It could be a common cold, seasonal allergies — or Covid-19.

Covid-19 cases are continuing to spread as the US moves into the time of year where allergies are on the rise. It will be important to know if you are feeling unwell because of seasonal sniffles or the coronavirus .

Both Covid and the flu often cause symptoms such as fever, fatigue, body aches, sore throat, shortness of breath and vomiting or diarrhea, according to the CDC.

Covid infection can be distinguished by the headache and dry cough that often go along with it. The loss of taste and smell that has been the biggest warning sign of a Covid infection is still a possible symptom.

TODAY’S PODCAST

Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, TikTok — let’s face it, social media has become a central part of our lives. CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta speaks to social media researcher Dar Meshi about what it is doing to our brains. Listen here.



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