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COVID: Should we fear a new winter wave of infections and hospitalisations?

A member of the medical staff prepares a syringe with a vial of Moderna vaccine against Covid-19.
A member of the medical staff prepares a syringe with a vial of Moderna vaccine against Covid-19. Copyright ANGELA WEISS/AFP or licensors
Copyright ANGELA WEISS/AFP or licensors
By Ilaria Federico
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This article was originally published in French

Since mid-July, Europe has been experiencing a resurgence in cases of COVID due in part to the emergence of new variants.


COVID-19 is back in the news, a sign that the epidemic has not yet had its last word. At the end of August, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) reported an increase in transmission of COVID-19 within the European Union.

In 16 of the 21 countries analysed, an increase in case rates was observed, particularly among people aged 80 and over.

"There are signs of increased transmission in certain parts of Europe. By 20 August 2023, the number of cases of COVID-19 had increased by 11 per cent compared with the previous 28 days," Dr Hans Kluge, the World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Director for Europe, told Euronews Next.

According to Quique Bassat, an epidemiologist and researcher at ISGlobal and ICREA, "over the last few months, during the summer, we have seen an increase in the transmission of COVID-19 in several European countries. 

"In Spain, for example, we have seen a significant increase in transmission and a rise in hospitalisations linked to COVID-19. This is attributed to the emergence of new variants, which are more contagious than previous ones".

The epidemiologist also added that "every week, a new sub-variant seems to emerge, appearing more dangerous or even more contagious than the previous ones".

Are there major risks this winter?

As summer draws to a close and temperatures begin to fall, experts are drawing attention to the possibility of another wave of COVID-19 this winter.

"What we know from past experience in previous winters is that every time the cold sets in, new respiratory viruses appear, including traditional ones such as influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) in children, all of which tend to spread during the winter season," explained Bassat.

"If we add to these viruses the burden of COVID-19, the healthcare system is put under severe strain. And when it's under strain, it suffers. That's what we all fear".

To mitigate this risk, experts strongly advocate vaccination against COVID-19 and influenza, while stressing the importance of maintaining precautionary measures.

"We need to be prepared for a possible increase over the autumn and winter, as diseases such as COVID-19, influenza, and other respiratory infections are likely to thrive," the WHO told Euronews. 

My recommendation is the same as the one I give to my parents, who are elderly and have reached the age of 86. Caution, prudence and common sense.
Quique Bassat
Researcher and epidemiologist, ISGlobal and ICREA

"We encourage those who are eligible to accept offers of vaccination, including co-administration of COVID-19 and influenza vaccines for at-risk groups. Vaccination is still the best way to protect ourselves, combined with good personal hygiene practices".

"We need to adopt a cautious attitude, using common sense, without giving into paranoia about the risks of COVID-19. I think we should persevere with the good practices we have adopted over the last 12 months, namely maintaining our vigilance and constant monitoring of developments in the situation", added the expert.

What is the EU response?

The European Commission has given the go-ahead for new COVID-19 vaccines to be adapted to target emerging sub-variants of Omicron.

"The vaccine is licenced for adults, children and infants older than 6 months... this vaccine is another important milestone in the fight against the disease," said the EU executive in an official statement on Pfizer's vaccine.

This update of the vaccine, marketed under the name Comirnaty, is also expected to "boost immune coverage" against current and emerging variants.

But the EU's commitment against COVID-19 does not stop there. 

"The coordination and working together is the basis of a strong European Health Union," explained Stella Kyriakides, European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety. 


"From the beginning of the pandemic, we have worked with the Member States providing guidelines through ECDC on the way they need to monitor COVID-19, on the need to have sequencing, on the need to have surveillance and on their vaccination strategies".

According to Kluge, "member States of the WHO European Region need to urgently reinvest and recommit to their own efforts to produce and share reliable and robust epidemiologic and virologic surveillance data, as well as looking outside our own borders for potential emerging risks elsewhere."

To guard against a possible new wave of the pandemic, many European countries have adopted proactive measures.

At the end of August, the United Kingdom, for example, announced its intention to bring forward the launch date of the COVID-19 vaccination campaign to 11 September.

In France, the new COVID-19 vaccination campaign, combined with the influenza campaign, has been pushed forward, to start on 2 October.


Commissioner Kyriakides is also involved in the fight against the virus, appealing to the citizens of Europe: "A strong European Health Union means all of us working together to face a public health situation. 

"So follow the advice that has been given by your doctors in terms if you need to be vaccinated or not, and take basic hand hygiene advice. I think that this is extremely important. If you feel ill stay at home, it may not be COVID. It may be influenza. But we need to protect each other in the difficult autumn and winter season that may follow".

Additional sources • Lauren Chadwick

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