The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) published its 14th update on the EU/EEA COVID-19 situation, including the latest data on SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern (VOCs) and vaccine rollout.
While most countries are currently seeing a decline in overall infections in response to tight non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs), the introduction and increased spread of new SARS-CoV-2 variants is concerning, the ECDC says, adding that the B.1.1.7 variant, first identified in the United Kingdom, appears to be more transmissible than the previously predominant circulating strains and may cause more severe infection.
Although vaccine rollout has started in all EU/EEA countries, it is still too early to detect an impact on COVID-19 mortality or hospitalisations. Variants against which currently licensed vaccines might have reduced efficacy, as observed for some vaccines with the B.1.351 variant first identified in South Africa, will probably continue to emerge in the future.
Optimising the implementation of NPIs is essential, and rapid vaccine deployment among priority groups is needed to reduce hospitalisations, ICU admissions and deaths due to COVID-19, the ECDC says.
Increasing levels of pandemic fatigue need to be properly addressed, and public expectations about the likelihood of easing restrictions need to be carefully managed.