While the vaccinations against Corona began in Germany and many other European countries this Sunday, there is growing concern about the persistently high number of infections and the possible consequences of the virus variant that was first confirmed in England and has now appeared in several other countries. The Swiss virologist Isabella Eckerle (40) is calling for severe consequences.
Eckerle, who was born in Germany, is one of the most important voices in the pandemic in Switzerland. The virologist told the “Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ) am Sonntag”: “If some loosen up while others tighten it, it jeopardizes the success of the lockdown in another country.”
“Ultimately, this amounts to a Europe-wide lockdown”
The Geneva virologist said: “In a Europe with open borders, fighting pandemics only works as well as the country that does it the worst.” A common strategy to reduce the number of cases is therefore needed quickly. “Ultimately, this amounts to a Europe-wide lockdown.”
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The corona virus does not respect national borders, said Eckerle. “If we want to make it through the next few months, all countries must now pull together,” said the head of the infectious diseases department at the university clinics in Geneva. In principle, all countries would have to take similar measures to contain the virus.
Also with a view to the new variant, Eckerle tweeted on Christmas Eve: “I know that this will probably be my most unpopular tweet in 2020: But based on this data, the geographic region of Europe (not just the EU) should prepare for a coordinated, complete lockdown . “
New virus variant apparently much more contagious
To this end, she posted a model calculation by experts from the Center for the Mathematical Modeling of Infectious Diseases (CMMID) at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, according to which the new virus variant is about 56 percent more contagious than previous forms.
“Most countries have already reached the limit of the health system, the intensive care unit, the laboratory tests, the tracing of infections,” said Eckerle. “A more transferable variant will lead to tragedy in January and February.”
Eckerle told the Swiss “Sonntagsblick” with a view to the British virus variant, which was also found in Switzerland: “The first data suggest that this variant is much more contagious.” It is astonishing that it first appeared in the south-east of England, where the rules are loose and the Case numbers were very high. “You would expect a greater mix of different variants – and not that one variant pushes back all the others.” This worries her, said Eckerle.
“However, we do not yet know to what extent this is due to the nature of the virus or whether it has been exacerbated by other factors, such as minor measures in the region.”
Eckerle: More deaths due to more infections
When asked whether the mutation resulted in more or less severe courses, Eckerle said: “Preliminary analyzes show no difference. But if the mutation is actually more contagious, it makes containing the virus even more difficult – and can lead to more deaths. “
Eckerle is also a signatory of an appeal by European scientists first published in the medical journal “The Lancet”. They had written: “In order to avoid a ping-pong effect from imported and reimported corona infections, efforts to reduce the number of cases in all European countries should be synchronized and begin as quickly as possible.” It continues: “We are therefore calling for a strong one , coordinated European response and clearly defined goals for the medium and long term. “
“A one-time thing, our last lockdown”
The call can also be found on the website www.containcovid-pan.eu, where you can also find a list of the more than 850 signatories. This also includes the chief virologist of the Berlin Charité, Christian Drosten, the Frankfurt virologist Sandra Ciesek and the president of the Robert Koch Institute, Lothar Wieler.
In their appeal, the scientists demand that there must be a maximum of ten new infections per million inhabitants per day. With fast, hard editions, this can be done in spring at the latest. “That should be a one-time thing, our last lockdown,” said the Polish co-author of the article in “The Lancet”, Ewa Szczurek.
On Christmas Eve, authorities from Baden-Württemberg reported the first case of the new coronavirus variant in Germany. A woman who had flown from London Heathrow to Frankfurt am Main to visit relatives carried the new virus line B.1.1.7 unnoticed. Because of the new mutation, more than 50 countries have now imposed travel restrictions.
The virus variant has already been detected in these European countries:
- Great Britain
The head of the Mainz company Biontech, Ugur Sahin, which developed the first vaccine administered in Germany and Europe together with the US company Pfizer, was optimistic after the new virus variant became known. The vaccine will probably also work against the new virus line B.1.1.7. He thinks this is “extremely likely,” he said last Tuesday. Biontech will now scientifically examine the effectiveness of the vaccine in the mutation and present results in two weeks.
Biontech: Vaccine can be “reworked” quickly if necessary
In addition, the existing vaccine can be “reworked” within six weeks if necessary and specially tailored to the mutation. This would be “technically possible within a very short time”, but a new vaccine would have to go through an approval process again.
The SPD health expert Karl Lauterbach warned on Saturday that the current high number of new infections could lead to further mutations “against which our current vaccinations are no longer effective,” he wrote on Twitter.
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In addition, the question arises of how great the so-called herd immunity against the coronavirus has to be in order to think about a normal life like before the pandemic. The leading US researcher Anthony Fauci has now revised his forecast upwards. Instead of 60 to 70 percent, he is now assuming 70 to 90 percent. According to the “New York Times” (NYT), he corrected himself now that there was new scientific knowledge and he thinks that the population is now ready for the truth.
Lauterbach picked up the NYT report in another tweet. He therefore believes that the increase in the risk of infection due to the mutations will make achieving herd immunity more difficult. He assumes that about ten percent of people in Germany will be immune by vaccinations and surviving infections by the end of March.