Fri | Apr 16, 2021

Europe staggers as infectious variants power coronavirus surge

Published:Saturday | March 6, 2021 | 4:54 PM
In this Saturday, February 7, 2021 file photo, people crowd Via del Corso shopping street in Rome, following the ease of restriction measures to curb the spread of COVID-19. Europe recorded one million new COVID-19 cases last week, an increase of 9% from the previous week and ending a six-week decline, WHO said Thursday, March 4, 2021. The so-called UK variant is of greatest concern in the 53 countries monitored by WHO in Europe. (Cecilia Fabiano/LaPresse via AP)

MILAN (AP) — The coronavirus swept through a nursery school and an adjacent elementary school in the Milan suburb of Bollate with amazing speed.

In a matter of just days, 45 children and 14 staff members had tested positive.

Genetic analysis confirmed what officials already suspected: The highly contagious coronavirus variant first identified in England was racing through the community, a densely packed city of nearly 40,000 with a chemical plant and a Pirelli bicycle tire factory a 15-minute drive from the heart of Milan.

“This demonstrates that the virus has a sort of intelligence. ... We can put up all the barriers in the world and imagine that they work, but in the end, it adapts and penetrates them,” lamented Bollate Mayor Francesco Vassallo.

Bollate was the first city in Lombardy, the northern region that has been the epicentre in each of Italy’s three surges, to be sealed off from neighbours because of virus variants that the World Health Organization says are powering another uptick in infections across Europe.

The variants also include versions first identified in South Africa and Brazil.

Europe recorded one million new COVID-19 cases last week, an increase of 9% from the previous week and a reversal that ended a six-week decline in new infections, WHO said Thursday.

“The spread of the variants is driving the increase, but not only,” said Dr Hans Kluge, WHO regional director for Europe, citing “also the opening of society, when it is not done in a safe and a controlled manner.”

The variant first found in the UK is spreading significantly in 27 European countries monitored by WHO and is dominant in at least 10 countries: Britain, Denmark, Italy, Ireland, Germany, France, the Netherlands, Israel, Spain and Portugal.

It is up to 50% more transmissible than the virus that surged last spring and again in the fall, making it more adept at thwarting measures that were previously effective, WHO experts warned.

Scientists have concluded that it is also more deadly.

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