UK, Eastern Europe battle rising COVID

The United Kingdom's COVID-19 cases, which have been slowly rising, reached a 3-month high today, with countries in Eastern Europe, especially Russia, battling surges.

Experts eye rising UK cases

The UK government reported 49,156 cases today, up more than 15% from the previous week and the highest number since mid-July when the country was still in lockdown. Case rates are highest in those ages 10 to 19 and lowest in adults ages 80 and older, according to the country's Health Security Agency (HSA) weekly update. Hospital admissions rose slightly and were highest in people age 85 and older.

In the HSA update, Incident Director William Welfare, MBBS, MPH, said case rates across the country are high are slowly rising. He urged people to take precautions as winter approaches, get vaccinated against COVID-19 and flu, and get tested if symptoms arise.

Amid the case surge may also be a COVID-19 mutation worth watching, according to Scott Gottlieb, MD, former US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) commissioner. Yesterday, Gottlieb noted on Twitter that the rise in the AY.4 version of the Delta (B1617.2) variant now makes up 8% of sequenced cases in the United Kingdom. He said that urgent research is needed to assess if the variant, which contains the S:Y145H mutation in the spike protein, is more transmissible or is more likely to evade natural- or vaccine-induced immunity.

"The variant has been in the UK since about July, but it has been slowly increasing in prevalence. There’s no clear indication that it's considerably more transmissible, but we should work to more quickly characterize these and other new variants. We have the tools," he said, adding that the situation is a reminder that the world needs a robust system to identify and characterize new variants, similar to current efforts to characterize flu viruses.

Eastern Europe developments

Russia yesterday reported a new single-day high, registering 34,303 new cases, according to the Associated Press. Deaths remained near the daily high of about 1,000. Still, some independent experts and data analysists are challenging Russia's officials totals, charging that cases are deaths are vastly undercounted as part of a strategy to downplay the crisis, according to the Washington Post.

The country is in its fourth surge and is struggling to get people vaccinated.

Other countries in eastern Europe are also experiencing rising cases, including Romania, which recently asked the European Union for help, and Hungary, where cases are rising in a fourth wave of infections. Also, Latvia today announced a 3-week lockdown, slated to begin Oct 21, to slow its spike in infections, according to Reuters.

More global headlines

  • New Zealand's government extended a lockdown in Auckland for 2 more weeks, as community cases involving the Delta variant continue to be reported each day and officials encourage vaccination.

  • In Australia, a lockdown in Melbourne appears ready to start lifting its measures this week  as Victoria state approaches its target of vaccinating 70% of the population. The lockdown, which began May 2020, is thought to be the world's longest.

  • The global total has reached 240,978,532 cases, and 4,902,851 people have died from their infections, according to the Johns Hopkins online dashboard.

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