Press-Telegram (Long Beach)

Variants power a surge in Europe

- By Colleen Barry

The virus swept through a nursery school and an adjacent elementary school in the Milan suburb of Bollate with amazing speed. In a matter of just days, 45 children and 14 staff members had tested positive.

Genetic analysis confirmed what officials already suspected: The highly contagious coronaviru­s variant first identified in England was racing through the community, a densely packed city of nearly 40,000 with a chemical plant and a Pirelli bicycle tire factory a 15-minute drive from the heart of Milan.

“This demonstrat­es that the virus has a sort of intelligen­ce . ... We can put up all the barriers in the world and imagine that they work, but in the end, it adapts and penetrates them,” lamented Bollate Mayor Francesco Vassallo.

Bollate was the first city in Lombardy, the northern region that has been the epicenter in each of Italy’s three surges, to be sealed off from neighbors because of virus variants that the World Health Organizati­on says are powering another uptick in infections across Europe. The variants also include versions first identified in South Africa and Brazil.

Europe recorded 1 million new COVID-19 cases last week, an increase of 9% from the previous week and a reversal that ended a sixweek decline in new infections, WHO said Thursday.

“The spread of the variants is driving the increase, but not only,” said Dr. Hans Kluge, WHO regional director for Europe, citing “also the opening of society, when it is not done in a safe and a controlled manner.”

The variant first found in the U.K. is spreading significan­tly in 27 European countries monitored by WHO and is dominant in at least 10 countries: Britain, Denmark, Italy, Ireland, Germany, France, the Netherland­s, Israel, Spain and Portugal.

It is up to 50% more transmissi­ble than the virus that surged last spring and again in the fall, making it more adept at thwarting measures that were previously effective, WHO experts warned.

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