Genoa – About 2,400 cases a day, a prevalence of the Delta variant of around 23%, and over a third of the population that has completed the vaccination cycle. And the description of the state of the pandemic in Italy in these days. But it is also roughly the description of the state of the pandemic in the United Kingdom as of 20 May last (except for the difference in the vaccinated, in our favor). And this is what worries the government and health authorities of our country. May Italy today be like Great Britain a few weeks ago. But, above all, the possibility that it will become like today.
A month and a half later, the country led by Boris Johnson in fact travels around 35 thousand new cases a day and the Delta variant accounts for over 98% of the sequenced cases. All this while the portion of the British population that has completed vaccination in the meantime has exceeded 50%.
So, like last Sunday at the Wembley final, the Italian eyes are again on London but this time the game is played against a common opponent: Sars-COV-2 in its latest transformation. And the observation of how the match is going up there will depend many of the decisions that will be taken in our part (and throughout the Old Continent). Let’s see what information can be gathered so far.
The bad news: cases get out of control quickly
At the moment, the story that comes from across the Channel is both frightening and reassuring. Let’s start with the negative part. Within seven weeks, from a situation so similar to ours today, cases increased 15 times with an average weekly increase of over 40%. The first jump occurred in early June when the Delta variant became dominant, overtaking and then accelerating further when, in the middle of the same month, it reached a prevalence of 75%. From there, the spread of the virus went out of control, with a rate of spread of the infections that resembles that observed in the second wave when, at the peak of the pandemic in January, Great Britain reached an average of 60,000 cases per day.
The response that comes from London and its surroundings in this sense is worrying: in a context of limited restrictions the Delta variant takes over and helps to blow up cases with a higher virulence than we were used to with the other mutations as we are observing also in Spain and Portugal.
The good news: hospitalizations under control
But luckily there are vaccines. As mentioned above, half of the population in the UK has completed the vaccination course. Numbers that help limit the damage with respect to the more serious consequences of Covid. Despite the surge in cases, hospitalizations linked to the new coronavirus remain under control.
New admissions have gone from about 100 per day at the end of May to over 560 in the second week of July. Quintupled but with figures that remain relatively low. To give an example, in the Christmas period when in Great Britain there were a similar number of cases to these days, the people who entered the hospital were about 2,400 per day, four times more.
The same goes for deaths. There is currently an average of just over 30 daily deaths from Covid in the UK. At Christmas, when the new cases were traveling at a speed comparable to the current one, there were over 450. The difference is obvious and this too can be largely attributed to vaccines. The response in this case is therefore favorable: vaccinations are having a positive impact in limiting the most serious effects of the new coronavirus.
The unexpected and the doubts
In short, good and bad news come from the UK inextricably linked. But with these also come doubts. Starting with the impact of the other match, that of football, played at Wembley on 11 July. The gatherings related to the match could make their effect felt on the infections.
Am I supposed to be enjoying watching transmission happening in front of my eyes?
– Maria Van Kerkhove (@mvankerkhove) July 11, 2021
And then there is the biggest doubt. Given that, in the presence of a large portion of the vaccinated population, the ratio between infections on the one hand and hospitalization deaths decreases substantially, it is possible to avoid – without resorting to further restrictions – that the number thus increases enough to put the health system under pressure again? The Secretary of State for Health of the British government Sajid Javid has not ruled out the possibility of achieving the figure of 100 thousand new infected a day. What would happen in that case? Nobody knows. “Uncharted territory” Javid himself defined it, uncharted territory.
Finally, the most imponderable risk. That the increase in the number of infected subjects may also increase the likelihood of further mutations and that they become able to escape the effect of vaccines. Some experts have raised the alarm precisely in this sense and also the World Health Organization.
In the midst of so many uncertainties, a single certainty resists, both here and beyond the English Channel on the shores of the Atlantic as in the Mediterranean: proceed with vaccinations as quickly as possible to reach the herd immunity threshold, i.e. an estimated population coverage of between 80 and 85%. The sooner you get there, the better.