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It has been two years since the Covid-19 pandemic became a reality for millions of people in Europe and many of the region’s leaders now believe it is time to move on. But as countries shed restrictions, cases and hospitalizations are slowly inching up and public health experts are worried about the consequences.
Covid-19 cases are rising in Britain just two weeks after UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson lifted most mitigation measures. Infections were 48% higher last week compared with the one before and hospitalizations were up 17% over the same period, CNN’s Brenda Goodman and Deidre McPhillips report.
The country’s daily case rate – about 55,000 a day – is still less than a third of what it was during the Omicron peak, but cases are rising as fast as they were falling just two weeks earlier, when self-isolation rules for infected people ended in the UK.
Daily cases are also rising in more than half of the countries in the European Union. They have jumped 48% in the Netherlands. On Tuesday, Germany reported a record high seven-day incidence in Covid-19 cases, of 1,585.4 Covid-19 infections per 100,000 people, days before the government is due to consider easing some restrictions.
The situation has caught the eye of American public health experts, who worry that Europe’s rise in infections may be a preview of what’s to come in the US. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CNN that his British counterparts have pegged the rise in cases to a combination of three factors: The more transmissible BA.2 variant; the opening of society and people mingling more indoors without masks; and waning immunity from vaccination or prior infection.
“Without a doubt, opening up society and having people mingle indoors is clearly something that is a contributor, as well as overall waning immunity, which means we’ve really got to stay heads-up and keep our eye on the pattern here,” Fauci said. “So that’s the reason why we’re watching this very carefully.”
Although the UK may provide a glimpse of the future, there are key differences that will affect how BA.2 plays out in the US, Keri Althoff, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told CNN.
In the UK, 86% of eligible people are fully vaccinated, and 67% are boosted, compared with 69% of those eligible vaccinated and 50% boosted in the US. “What we see happening in the UK is going to be perhaps a better story than what we should be expecting here,” Althoff said.
Even though the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) did away with masking recommendations for most parts of the country two weeks ago, it is vital to stay vigilant. “We have to stay diligent in terms of monitoring of it and testing and be prepared to possibly reverse a lot of the relaxing of these restrictions,” said Deborah Fuller, a microbiologist at the University of Washington.
“We can’t let our guard down, because the message that people get when they say ‘we’re lifting restrictions’ is the pandemic is over. And it’s not.”
YOU ASKED. WE ANSWERED.
Q: What factors should people consider if they need to return to work in person?
A: It depends on the individual and the circumstances involved, CNN Medical Analyst Dr. Leana Wen said.
“People should consider three factors. What are your medical circumstances and that of others in your household? What’s the level of Covid-19 in your community? And finally what safety precautions are already being taken in your place of work?” Wen added. “Some offices require proof of vaccination, require regular testing, distancing, and ventilation. And remember that masks are always available, even if they are not required,” she said.
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
White House warns Congress about potential disruptions to Covid response
The White House is amping up its warning that aspects of the federal Covid-19 response will be curtailed after lawmakers failed to pass additional funding, with administration officials speaking in dire terms in a call with reporters and sending a letter to congressional leaders Tuesday, Betsy Klein reports.
The latest warnings mark an escalation in pressure from the Biden administration ahead of key funding deadlines. Additional funding for federal Covid-19 efforts was initially included in a recent massive omnibus spending package, but was stripped out following a spat over how the spending would be offset.
As daily cases rise in Europe, a senior Biden administration official warned that Congress’ failure to pass a supplemental Covid-19 funding bill could leave the US unprepared for another potential surge. “Our scientific and medical experts have been clear that in the next couple of months, we could see Covid cases increase here in the US just as we’re seeing cases rising abroad right now,” the senior official said, adding, “We are less well prepared without additional funding than we would be otherwise.”
In China, 37 million people are in lockdown as the country suffers its worst outbreak since Wuhan
China is battling its worst Covid-19 outbreak since the early days of the pandemic. This outbreak has spread far faster than previous waves of less infectious variants, with daily cases skyrocketing from a few dozen in February to more than 5,100 on Tuesday – the highest figure since the early 2020 outbreak in Wuhan.
While the number may sound low compared to other countries, it is alarmingly high for a nation that has adhered to a strict zero-Covid policy throughout the pandemic. Five cities – collectively home to more than 37 million residents – are now under varying levels of lockdown in China, Jessie Yeung reports.
Authorities and state media say it is still unclear how the first few outbreaks began. But several factors – including cases imported from overseas and the prevalence of the Omicron variant – exacerbated the severity of the outbreak nationwide.
She had a near-death experience because of Covid. But it wasn’t a glimpse of an afterlife that changed her
In the two years since it began, the pandemic has spawned a new category of near-death experiences – recounted by people who say they lived through them and returned to see the miraculous in the ordinary rhythms of daily life, John Blake reports.
They were spiritually transformed not by a glimpse of the afterlife but by what they saw in this life, when they were struggling to stay alive after being stricken by Covid.
Those type of stories don’t tend to get book or movie deals. Yet people like Paige Deiner, 41, have these incredible stories of survival that can help us all.
Start with the power of gratitude. It’s a cliché for some, but not for many Covid survivors. “I think often of how much we take for granted,” Deiner wrote in a Facebook post not long after she was released from the hospital in December, “from the ability to walk or swallow to breathe.”
Mask mandates may be lifting in many parts of the US, but many people are holding on to them in case guidance changes. Here is what you need to know to store masks safely and tell if they are expired:
- Masks need to be stored in a dry area, said Christopher Sulmonte, project administrator for the Johns Hopkins Biocontainment Unit at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. “I personally use a paper bag without sealing it, because the big thing is you want it to recirculate with air,” he said.
- Store your face coverings using a plastic container with holes in it.
- For cloth masks, make sure to wash them like you would any other piece of clothing you own.
- If you’re taking a break from wearing a mask, be sure to check the expiration date, this can often be found on the outside of the boxes.
When astronaut Christina Koch embarked on her record-breaking 11-month spaceflight, she didn’t know she would return to Earth at the start of a global pandemic. CNN’s Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta speaks to Koch about her remarkable journey. Listen here.