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In many European countries, infections have returned to increase

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In the last week in many European countries, including Italy, more infections were found than in the previous week. The curve started to rise again after the decline recorded since mid-January with the end of the so-called fourth wave of the epidemic.

It is still early to understand whether the rise in cases is the beginning of a new wave. It is also very complex to understand why infections have started to grow again: according to many experts, the increase is mainly due to the loosening of the restrictive measures decided by many governments, to the consequent relaxation of the population, and to the spread of some sub-variants of the omicron of which one, called BA.2, very contagious. Regarding the effectiveness of coronavirus vaccines, however, the data say that it is not decreasing for now, although it will be important to continue to observe the situation in the coming weeks.

As can be seen from the graph of Our World in Datathe weekly incidence of cases has returned to rise in Austria, Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Portugal, Belgium, Switzerland and also in Italy.

The president of the Higher Institute of Health, Silvio Brusaferro, has explained that the growth of infections reported in all Italian regions is due to the highest incidence among young people, between 10 and 19 years, and among children up to 10 years. The trend, said Brusaferro, clearly shows that also in Italy the epidemiological situation is worsening even if “the growth of the weekly incidence is a picture consistent with the European situation”.

These are data that must be read carefully. As is now evident, the number of daily infections is an indicator that must be considered, even if it tells us little about a possible new emergency. Being positive for the coronavirus, in fact, does not mean being sick with COVID-19: most of the infected people, especially if vaccinated, have mild symptoms and do not need to be hospitalized. For this reason it is more indicative to consider the situation in hospitals, which at the moment seems to be under control, as shown by the data relating to the incidence of admissions to intensive care.

In addition to the protection guaranteed by vaccines, the low percentage of people in serious conditions out of the total number of infected people is due to the characteristics of the omicron variant, already prevalent in Italy since the beginning of December. In recent weeks, a new sub-variant has been identified, BA.2, which appears to have quite similar characteristics: it spreads at a very rapid rate, but appears to cause significantly milder symptoms than previous variants for the majority of vaccinated people.

According to the latest quick investigation commissioned by the Higher Institute of Health (ISS) with data from the swabs sequenced on March 7, the omicron variant has an estimated prevalence of 99.9 percent, of which 44.1 percent can be traced back to the BA.2 sub-variant present in almost all regions. A total of 117 regional laboratories that sequenced 1984 swabs participated in the survey.

Among other things, the surveillance bulletin epidemiologica published on Saturday by the ISS confirmed the effectiveness of vaccines especially against severe forms of the disease: the incidence of infections, hospitalizations and deaths is much higher among unvaccinated people than in those who have received protection. The efficacy is evident from the comparison between vaccinated and unvaccinated among the older groups of the population, those most at risk.

The effectiveness of the vaccines and the less serious consequences of omicron have allowed Italian hospitals to maintain a rather low pressure on the intensive care units already during the fourth wave. Things do not seem to have changed: the pressure on intensive care is still low also due to the incidence of infections among younger people, less at risk than the elderly. Again, it will be important to continue looking at the data in the coming weeks.

For all these reasons, the Italian government, as well as almost all other European governments, has decided to confirm the easing of the restrictions decided at the end of the fourth wave.

The state of emergency imposed for the pandemic will end on 31 March and will not be extended. From April 1st, the Green Pass – both the reinforced one (obtainable only with vaccination or recovery from COVID-19) and the basic one (obtainable even after having tested negative in an antigen or molecular test for the coronavirus) – will no longer be mandatory to access shops, hotels, public offices, post offices, banks, swimming pools and to access a bar or restaurant and eat outdoors.

Until April 30, the reinforced one will continue to be mandatory for access to indoor restaurants and bars, wellness centers, gaming halls, discos, congresses and indoor sporting events and competitions. For sporting and non-sporting events that take place outdoors until April 30, the basic Green Pass will be needed. From May 1st, any Green Pass obligation will be permanently eliminated, as well as any obligation to wear masks.