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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 7, 2021

Here, as every week, is my coronavirus update. So far, 106 million SARS-CoV-2 infections have been officially detected around the world, and officially about 2,322,000 people have died from COVID-19. Globally, the number of cases per day has dropped by a third since early January. 128 million doses of vaccine have been administered so far (yes, we are vaccinating way too slowly, but we are outpacing the virus, at least according to the official numbers).

Europe Is Over the Peak

In Europe, actually, every country, with very few exceptions, is over the peak, even Sweden (they had as many if not more deaths in the second wave than in the first, by the way; so much for “Swedish strategy”). Portugal also made it. In Spain, at least, the wave is leveling off.

The problem is that many countries are settling in at too high a level. When lockdowns end, the number of cases can quickly rise again. Incidentally, it is not entirely clear why the lockdowns worked less well now in winter than in spring 2020. There are probably a number of factors involved: There is more testing, so you find more of the “leftover” cases.

According to mobility data (i.e. data on the extent to which people move, which is often collected via the movement of cell phones), the lockdowns are also much less strict in many countries than in the spring of 2020, people follow the rules less. And then there is the higher temperature in the spring, which probably contributes to the virus being less infectious. However, in a few countries, case numbers have definitely gone down to the point where efficient contact tracing is becoming possible again there.

Strong Downward Trend in the Americas

In Canada and the USA, a strong downward trend is emerging. In New York, too, case numbers are going downhill. The cases went down quite fast in New York this week, but there was less testing due to the snow storm (in Austria, you would have said it snowed a bit – but here the world came to an end). Brazil and Mexico are stil not looking good, but many other countries in Latin America are stable or showing downward trends. Some have broken waves quite early and quickly. Peru’s cases continue to go up.

Concern About Thailand, Recovery in South Africa

The situation in Asia is mostly unchanged. But there seems to be a wave coming in Thailand. It was actually pretty quiet there for a long time, although they had the first cases outside of China. Let’s see how that develops. In the Middle East there is not much change either. Africa is very mixed and much less synchronized than Europe or North America, which I find very interesting – but that’s also logical because it’s a very complex continent with many climate zones.

South Africa seems to be getting everything back on track, with case numbers dropping rapidly, despite the B.1.351 variant. Other countries, such as Kenya and Uganda, have never really had high case numbers and don’t seem to have a problem. Other countries again, such as Ethiopia, do not have strong waves but do have quite high virus circulation in the population. Again other countries like Senegal, Mozambique, Zambia, Nigeria etc. are struggling with an increase in cases.

The South African Variant

So, now a few things about our “favorite” variant B.1.351 which originally comes from South Africa. As mentioned last week, we have seen a reduction in the effect of J&J and Novavax vaccination. Protection against symptomatic disease, while not disappearing, was reduced (from 72% to 57% with J&J, from 90% to about 60% with Novavax). Protection against severe disease probably remains.

Early next week, according to the Financial Times, there will be data showing that the AstraZeneca vaccine is less effective against this variant (but it is effective against B.1.1.7, the British variant). 

I am not surprised, but for this reason it would be insanely important to stop the spread of this variant in Tyrol. If it appears in other federal states, one should also set local focus actions (local lockdowns?). It doesn’t have to be the whole federal state, but maybe something can be done at the district level.

The variant is not yet widespread worldwide, is more infectious, but can be stopped with “normal means” (masks, social distancing, lockdowns), as South Africa has shown. I know the Tyroleans are a bit annoyed, but one should really try to stop B.1.351 by all means. The variant is bad, and the sooner you do something, the less it spreads. 

Greetings and stay healthy!

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 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.