Professor Claude Muller of the Luxembourg Institute of Health remains optimistic about the situation in hospitals, and answered some of our lingering questions.
The celebrations during National Day seem to have triggered a rise in Covid-19 infections. But is that an isolated case?
It’s not only linked to one or two events or to National Day. It is more due to a new psychological situation. The holidays are starting, people know that a third of the population is immune, the incidence had decreased, football matches are being played in full stadiums, restaurants are open without masks or distancing, large gatherings are possible again… all this feeds the belief that the pandemic is over, which results in an attitude that causes more infections and transmission.
The delta variant isn’t responsible for the surge?
Most of the cases are now due to this more infectious variant. So it’s effectively a smaller pandemic within a larger one, which is abating. But this time we have the vaccines.
Despite the vaccinations, infections are rising. How does vaccination change the situation?
The vaccines used in Luxembourg protect against serious infections and are very effective in preventing hospitalisation. Three quarters of people over 50 are vaccinated. And the under-50s account for only 1% of deaths so far. This means that the age group of people who end up in hospital is largely immunised and the risk for the others is significantly reduced.
Won’t we have to wait before being sure that this surge doesn’t lead to an increase in hospital admissions?
For the time being, we can see that hospitalisations, whether in normal care or in intensive care, are not increasing. It’s true that we’ll have to wait and see. But I am still convinced that we will not reach the admission rates of the past. I’m optimistic.
Will further containment measures be needed to control the outbreak?
We are now at a stage where we have managed to protect hospitals and intensive care units. So from a public health point of view, we have defeated the pandemic caused by the current variants.
The measures thus don’t necessarily need to be stepped up. It’s now more a matter of personal choice: how do individuals who want to protect themselves go about it? People may or may not choose to vaccinate, even if vaccination is essential. They can wear masks and socially distance. They can be more cautious if they have co-morbidities.
So the decision is increasingly personal, just as you protect yourself in your daily life against diseases or risks: wearing a seatbelt in the car is a personal choice. The risk is then proportional to your attitude and risk management.
So people need to take responsibility for themselves…
People’s attitudes are countercyclical. They will see that the incidence is increasing and they will change their attitude again, avoiding large gatherings more, wearing masks more, keeping their distance, using tests, etc. Maybe protective measures were not taken seriously before, but by observing the incidence, they are now necessary again.
What about new variants that are more resistant to vaccines?
If the vaccines no longer work, it means that a pandemic is coming from below [editor’s note: i.e., that the delta variant is overtaking the alpha variant]. From now on, new, adapted vaccines can be developed quickly, within a few months at most.