A DEADLY third Covid wave sweeping Europe fuelled by the AstraZeneca vaccine fiasco could cause a new surge in the UK within weeks, government scientists fear.
The EU’s shambolic jab rollout, combined with a sharp rise in infections, has seen large swathes of the Continent plunged back into lockdown in the past week.
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Paris has been plunged back into lockdown following a rise in casesCredit: Alamy
Europe’s medicines regulator EMA has cleared the AstraZeneca jab for use
Europe’s rise in cases comes as countries continue to struggle with the vaccine rollout, which has been hampered by political infighting, supply problems and growing skepticism over the AstraZeneca jab.
According to The Times, scientific advisers are becoming increasingly concerned that Europe’s third wave could cause a rise in cases in the UK within weeks.
The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) has urged the government to take a cautious approach amid the surge in infections on the Continent – but have not called for a change to Boris Johnson’s roadmap out of lockdown.
Britain saw a huge rise in cases in late December amid the spread of the Kent variant, which now makes up a significant number of infections in Europe.
A government source told The Times that the rise in Europe was being watched closely, adding: “It’s a fact that when waves one and two hit Europe they hit us afterwards.”
Paris has entered a month-long lockdown after the country recorded almost 35,000 cases in a 24-hour period. Scientists estimate that 5 to 10 per cent of these cases could be the South African variant.
Meanwhile, large swathes of Italy were plunged back into lockdown this week after cases nearly doubled in a month, with all schools and non-essential retail forced to shut.
Lothar Wieler, head of the Robert Koch Institute for Infectious Diseases, yesterday said the country was “at the beginning of the third wave” as the country recorded 17, 860 infections – its highest daily caseload in a month.
And Poland on Wednesday announced it would introduce nationwide restrictions as the daily tally of new cases reached the highest level this year, with 27,276 infections reported on Thursday.
A government scientist told the Daily Telegraph: “It does suggest we should be cautious, and although we’ve really come down quite steeply and things look pretty good in terms of hospitalisations and deaths, it would be wrong to assume we’re out of the woods.”
A source added that the country shouldn’t “kid ourselves that you can stop these things from getting here.”
A rise in cases in Europe has often prefigured an increase in the UK, scientists have noted.
In late August, both France and Spain saw a dramatic rise in infections – eventually prompting the reintroduction of restrictions in both countries.
This was followed by a sharp increase in cases in Britain in the Autumn, with the seven-day average of cases skyrocketing from 3,989 on September 21 to 13,970 on October 12.
Experts have urged Brits not to book foreign holidays to the EU this summer amid fears that travel restrictions could persist beyond the Spring.
Professor Neil Ferguson said “important decisions” are coming up as the Government eases the ban on international travel – and warned the UK must not let the South Africa variant become dominant.
Britain has managed to contain the spread of the strain through surge testing in affected areas, with only 351 known cases reported yesterday – an increase of seven in the past week.
The South African strain is up to 70 per cent more transmissible than the original coronavirus variant, meaning it spreads faster and is less easily controlled by lockdown measures.
Officials in Europe have said the vaccine rollout cannot keep up with the rise in cases, particularly as infectious new strains emerge.
Jens Spahn, Germany’s health minister, said: “We have to be honest about the situation – in Europe we don’t have enough vaccines to stop a third wave through vaccinations alone.
“The numbers are rising, the share of mutations is large and there are some fairly challenging weeks ahead of us”.
Berlin mayor Michael Müller lamented “we need every vaccine we can get” and Bavarian premier Markus Söde said they need to “accelerate” the approval of Russian jab Sputnik V.
“We need to approve it quickly and efficiently, not get bogged down in the classic, bureaucratic details,” Sode said.
EU leaders including French President Emmanuel Macron were criticised earlier this year for making baseless allegations about the efficacy of the jab in older patients, which has fuelled a wave of anti-vax sentiment.
The bloc also sparked a diplomatic row with Britain after threatening to block exports of the jab in January amid a furious spat with Astrazeneca over the delivery of millions of doses.
And this week, a string of EU leaders were forced into an embarrassing U-turn after banning the jab over unsubstantiated blood clot fears – against the recommendation of the World Health Organisation.
More than a dozen EU nations had halted its use over unsubstantiated fears it may trigger blood clots after what leaders admitted was a political decision.
Within minutes of regulator EMA’s announcement yesterday, Italy became the first state to say it will resume use of the jab.
And France and Germany also declared the vaccine was in fact safe and effective, with Ms Merkel finally admitting she “would take the Astrazeneca vaccine”.
Germany’s largest state Rhineland-Palatinate, with a population of four million, became the first reintroduce it.
Authorities in Berlin said two large vaccination centers that offer the AstraZeneca jab to people in the German capital will reopen.
Latvia, Lithuania, Cyprus, Luxembourg and Slovenia resumed use of the vaccine yesterday, while Portugal will resume on Monday, followed by Spain and the Netherlands next week.
Unlike Britain, many countries in Europe opted against a full lockdown over the Winter period, with countries such as France and Italy keeping schools open.
Boris Johnson on Thursday pledged to stick to his lockdown roadmap, which will see all restrictions end on June 21, despite a month-long delay to the under 50s receiving the jab.
Britain has vaccinated over 25 million people, and cases and hospitalisations have dramatically declined in recent weeks.
It comes as a new study suggests the vaccines from Oxford/AstraZeneca and Pfizer/BioNTech may be more effective against the P1 Brazil variant of coronavirus than previously thought.
Research from Oxford University, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, measured the level of antibodies that can neutralise – or stop infection from – variants that are circulating in South Africa, Brazil and elsewhere.
It found that vaccines do not work as well against the variants as against the original strain of coronavirus, but that the P1 Brazilian variant may be less resistant to vaccine-induced antibodies than first feared.