The Impact of the Delta Variant

On Sunday, Metropole brings you a COVID-19 update from Prof. Dr. Florian Krammer, an Austrian virologist who works and teaches at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York City.

February 28, 2021

Here again is the weekly COVID-19 update. Worldwide, 114 million official SARS-CoV-2 infections have been recorded so far, and 2 539 000 COVID-19 deaths have been registered. Unfortunately, the downward trend of the last few weeks has not continued, with the number of new infections per day just stagnating at about 400 000. 236 million doses of vaccine have been administered so far.

Rising Numbers in Europe Again

In Europe, many countries, including Austria, Italy, Poland, Ukraine, Czech Republic, Romania, Sweden, Serbia, Hungary, etc. are again seeing an increase in cases. In Finland, cases are also going up, but are still from quite low levels.

Countries like France, Spain, Germany, Belgium, Denmark, Croatia, Slovakia and the Netherlands have quite stable case numbers at the moment. Some of this level is quite high, some of it is actually quite OK. Denmark, for example, is currently at the same level as it was last fall, as is Croatia.

The UK, Slovenia, Switzerland and Portugal show a downward trend in cases, probably for different reasons.

Downward Trend also Stalling in the Americas

In the USA and Canada as well, the downward trend has stalled, the case numbers have now settled at a high level – comparable to last October (when the case numbers were unfortunately also quite high). In Latin America, the picture is mixed. In Mexico there is a steady downward trend; in Central America, the case numbers are partly quite low. In Colombia, case numbers are going down. In Argentina, Bolivia, Venezuela and Chile, case numbers are quite stable but high. In Brazil, they are also stable but at an extremely high level. Peru is in the middle of a wave.

Stable Asia – As Usual

From Asia there is nothing to report, India and the Philippines have reported a slight increase in cases. But basically, Asia looks very rosy almost everywhere. The Middle East is mixed, case numbers especially in Jordan, Iraq and Iran are going up. Israel is coming down from a wave. North Africa/Maghreb looks basically OK. Most African countries are stable or coming down from smaller waves, like Senegal. The only country I noticed where cases are going up at the moment is Ethiopia.

Vaccine Updates

Now a few vaccine updates. There are now three studies out, one from Scotland and two from Israel, which show that the effectiveness of the vaccines used is quite high after only one dose. The studies from Israel refer of course to the Pfizer-Biontech mRNA vaccine, but the study from Scotland shows that both the Pfizer and the AstraZeneca vaccine are effective after one dose – even for old people. After two doses, the Pfizer vaccine actually protects 92% of the population from disease. What was reported in the newspaper last week was actually corroborated by these scientific publications.

Johnson & Johnson to the Fore

Yesterday, the vaccine from J&J was approved in the USA. It is a viral vector vaccine based on an adenovirus 26 (which is also used for Ebola vaccines approved in the EU). The vaccine has shown 72% efficiency against moderate and severe disease with normal SARS-CoV-2 viruses and 57% against the B.1.351 variant from South Africa. Most importantly, the vaccine against normal SARS-CoV-2 and B.1.351 is 100% protective against illness requiring hospitalization. And, it only needs to be given once. The EMA will probably approve the vaccine in Europe in mid-March.

The Situation Around the World

What is the situation with vaccination worldwide? As mentioned above, 236 million doses have already been administered worldwide. Israel is really number 1. More than 52% of the population there have been vaccinated at least once, 37% twice.

Second best – who would have thought it – is the Seychelles! They have 54% vaccinated at least once and 25% twice. I suppose they will soon be the #1 vacation destination.

Behind them are the United Arab Emirates (56 doses of vaccine per 100 inhabitants vaccinated so far), the UK (30% vaccinated at least once, 1.2% vaccinated twice), the Maldives (28% of the population vaccinated at least once), the US (14% vaccinated at least once, 7% vaccinated twice), Serbia (13% vaccinated at least once, 7% vaccinated twice), Bahrain (19.7% of the population vaccinated at least once) and Chile (17.3% vaccinated at least once).

What I also find very good is what the Danes are doing. They had a test day for mass vaccination, where 37,000 people were vaccinated in one day. They expect to be able to vaccinate 100,000 people per day as soon as there is enough vaccine. That would be 3 million in one month. Denmark has about 6 million inhabitants. Let’s hope that something will happen in Austria soon.

Best wishes and stay healthy!

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Prof. Dr. Florian Krammer
Prof. Krammer is the Principal Investigator of the Sinai-Emory Multi-Institutional Collaborative Influenza Vaccine Innovation Center (SEM-CIVIC). Currently Prof. Krammer holds a position as a Professor of Vaccinology at the Department of Microbiology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. He has published more than 100 papers, is member of the editorial boards of the Journal of Virology, Plos One and Heliyon and is a peer reviewer for more than 30 journals.

Current Status

If you live in Vienna, make sure to register for getting a vaccine against COVID-19 under impfservice.wien.  Here you can book your vaccination appointment.

The City of Vienna offers free vaccinations without an appointment to everyone – regardless of citizenship, residency or insurance status – at multiple locations across the city. 

Vienna has reinstated a number of coronavirus restrictions for the fall. The Austrian government has presented a plan for schools and universities.  

Here’s an overview of where you can get tested for COVID-19 in Vienna and how the free PCR “gargle” tests at home work. 

If everything is a bit much for you or you experience domestic violence of any kind, here is our mental health resource article.

Numbers

For current coronavirus numbers, check the website of Ministry of Health and the AGES dashboard.

The Austrian Ministry of Health also publishes daily vaccination statistics and a preview of scheduled deliveries.

Resources

The City of Vienna has compiled comprehensive information on questions and answers regarding coronavirus and the COVID-19 disease in English.

The Austrian Ministry of Health has put together FAQs on the coronavirus and also provides material to download on how to protect yourself and others from the disease, also in English.

Furthermore, the ministry will constantly update its German-language website with information on the number of people tested and cases of COVID-19 in Austria.

Hotlines

Health advice by telephone1450

If you show symptoms (fever, cough, shortness of breath, breathing difficulties) or fear that you are ill, stay at home and dial health number 1450 for further procedures (diagnostic clarification).

Coronavirus hotline AGES+43 0800 555 621

The Austrian Agency for Health and Food Safety (AGES) answers questions about the coronavirus (general information on transmission, symptoms, prevention) 24 hours a day at +43 0800 555 621.

VKI hotline for travel law questions+43 0800 201 211

For legal questions concerning trips that have already been booked (e.g. whether a trip can be cancelled free of charge), the experts of the Association for Consumer Information (VKI) provide advice free of charge from Monday to Sunday between 09:00 and 15:00 at +43 0800 201 211.