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Macabre upshots of COVID-19 rampage in Romania

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In the past several days, the demand for coffins increased by 50% in Romania. Some working in this sector said that in October alone their sales increased as never before, writes Cristian Gherasim, Bucharest correspondent.

This comes as no surprise since COVID 19 has been killing one Romanian every five minutes, the country registering the highest death rate in the world.

Representatives of funeral homes and of those selling coffins said that they have encountered numerous tragedies in the past weeks. They met cases of entire families ending up burying four of their members in the past two weeks alone.

The COVID mortality rate is so high that many have compared it to the most tragic events in Romania’s recent history. The most tragic event was the Collective Club fire of 2015. The fire resulted in 64 deaths, almost nine times less than the COVID deaths recorded on Tuesday, 19 October. At the anti-communist revolution of 1989, 1,166 Romanians died. At the beginning of the week, 561 died in just 24 hours, namely half of the victims registered during the anti-communist revolution which unfolded over a period of 5 days. The 1977 earthquake killed 1,570 people. The 24h death rate from COVID in Romania represent one third of the victims of the worst earthquake in Romania’s recent history.

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Town halls across the country are now using excavators to dig burial plots for recently COVID deceased. Authorities in Slobozia, Ialomița county can no longer cope with the large number of dead and have brought an excavator to the cemetery to dig the graves.

Botosani City Hall also rented an excavator to deal with the wave of deaths. The number of deaths in recent days led to increase activity not only in hospitals but also in cemeteries, said local authorities. Gravediggers could no longer cope with the wave of burials, and heavy machinery had to be brought in.

Centralized data show that in the city of Botosani, every month, there were about 50 deaths, but now the number has more than doubled.

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The wave of burials exacerbates the crisis in the cemeteries, so the mayors must find solutions.

Due to the large number of deaths as a result of the new coronavirus, a crisis in cemeteries broke out in Italy this spring as much as it did during the first year of the pandemic. In Rome, in May, there was even a riot of funeral home workers who complained that there were no more places available. Spread over 140 hectares in northern Rome, Prima Porta, the largest cemetery in Italy, had a waiting list stretching all the way back to the beginning of the year.

People in Italy who had someone dying in January said that in May they were still not buried or cremated, and mortuaries at other cemeteries in the city were in similar situations.

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First suspected case of Omicron variant of COVID-19 detected in Switzerland

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The first probable case of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 has been detected in Switzerland, the government said late on Sunday (28 November), as the country tightened its entry restrictions to check its spread, writes John Revill, Reuters.

The case relates to a person who returned to Switzerland from South Africa around a week ago, the Federal Office for Public Health said on Twitter.

Testing will clarify the situation in the coming days, it added.

Switzerland has ordered that travellers from 19 countries must present a negative test when boarding a fight to the country, and must go into quarantine for 10 days on arrival.

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The list includes Australia, Denmark, Britain, Czech Republic, South Africa and Israel.

Swiss voters on Sunday backed the government's pandemic response plan by a bigger than expected majority in a referendum, paving the way for the continuation of exceptional measures to stem the rising tide of COVID-19 cases. Read more.

Some 62.01% voted in favour of a law passed earlier this year to provide financial aid to people hit by the COVID-19 crisis and laying the foundation for certificates giving proof of COVID-19 vaccination, recovery or a negative test. These are currently required to enter bars, restaurants and certain events.

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Biden warns against Omicron panic, pledges no new lockdowns

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US President Joe Biden (pictured) urged Americans on Monday (29 November) not to panic about the new COVID-19 Omicron variant and said the United States was working with pharmaceutical companies to make contingency plans if new vaccines were needed, write Susan Heavey, Alexandra Alper and Jeff Mason.

Biden said the country would not go back to lockdowns to stop the spread of Omicron, and he would lay out his strategy on Thursday (2 December) for combating the pandemic over the winter. He urged people to get vaccinated, get boosters and wear masks. Read more.

"This variant is a cause for concern, not a cause for panic," Biden said in remarks at the White House following a meeting with his COVID-19 team.

"We're going to fight and beat this new variant," he said.

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Biden said it was inevitable that Omicron cases, which were first detected in southern Africa, would emerge in the United States. He said officials were still studying Omicron but believed that existing vaccines would continue to protect against severe disease. Read more.

Biden said his administration was working with vaccine makers Pfizer (PFE.N), Moderna (MRNA.O) and Johnson & Johnson (JNJ.N) to develop contingency plans.

Travellers wait to process through a security checkpoint at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport before the Thanksgiving holiday in Seattle, Washington, U.S. November 24, 2021. REUTERS/Lindsey Wasson
Dr. Anthony Fauci listens as U.S. President Joe Biden delivers an update on the Omicron variant at the White House in Washington, U.S., November 29, 2021. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque     

"In the event, hopefully unlikely, that updated vaccinations or boosters are needed to respond to this new variant, we will accelerate their development and deployment with every available tool," he said.

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Biden said he would direct the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to "use the fastest process available without cutting any corners for safety to get such vaccines approved and on the market if needed."

A U.S. travel ban took effect earlier on Monday blocking most visitors from eight southern African nations from entering the country. Earlier flights from South Africa to the U.S. did not screen passengers after the variant was found. Read more.

Biden said the travel restrictions were put in place to give the country time to get more people vaccinated.

Vaccine hesitancy in the United States and around the world has thwarted public health officials' efforts to get the pandemic under control.

Just 59% of all Americans are fully vaccinated, although almost 70% now have at least one dose. Nearly 782,000 people have died from COVID-19 in the United States, according to a Reuters tally.

Much of the United States shut down in early 2020 at the beginning of the pandemic, but economic activity and jobs have bounced back in recent months. Face masks and vaccine mandates are opposed by some Republican politicians, even as health experts tout their effectiveness. Read more.

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Commission hosts second matchmaking event to speed up the development and production of COVID-19 medicines

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Today (30 November), the Commission is hosting a pan-European matchmaking event to accelerate and upscale the development and production of COVID-19 medicines in Europe, as part of the actions under the EU Strategy on COVID-19 Therapeutics. Following a first matchmaking event on COVID-19 medicines in July 2021 and a previous matchmaking event on COVID-19 vaccines in March 2021, this event aims at strengthening the participation of EU companies in value chains for COVID-19 therapeutics and speeding up connections among the participants. It also broadens the focus: from therapeutics specifically used to treat COVID-19, to also including those used to treat the symptoms of COVID-19, as well the production of disposable materials, such as syringes, and ingredients needed for making such medicines.

The event gathers companies from the European Economic Area as well as other businesses and organisations included in the portfolio of 10 most promising treatments, presented by the Commission in the follow-up to the COVID-19 Therapeutics strategy. In order to facilitate matchmaking events, the Commission issued a comfort letter in March 2021 (based on the Antitrust Temporary Framework adopted by the Commission on 8 April 2020) providing guidance, relevant also for this event, on how the matchmaking and exchanges between participating companies, including direct competitors, can take place in compliance with EU competition rules. The matchmaking event is organised by the Commission's Task Force for industrial scale-up of COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics, in close co-operation with the European Cluster Collaboration Platform. The event is also hosted in partnership with the Council of European BioRegions (CEBR) and the European Cluster Alliance (ECA), which are supporting the Commission in running an EU survey to assess EU capacities for COVID-19 therapeutics production. More information about the event is available here.

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