The tiny territory of Gibraltar has announced a raft of new health updates following a "drastic rise" in Covid-19 cases.
The British-owned peninsula, often referred to as "the most vaccinated place on Earth" for having inoculated the entirety of its adult population, has seen case numbers steadily rise throughout the months of October and November.
Health officials governing the 34,000-strong population believe the sudden re-emergence of the virus to be cause for concern after 124 new cases appeared over the weekend. Gibraltar has seen an average of 56 cases per day over the past seven days, compared to under 10 per day in September.
The number of active cases sits at 474 - roughly 1.3 per cent of the population - as of November 17th. The recent spike is the biggest surge the tiny populous has seen since January 2021.
Gibraltar's vaccination rate is currently at a peculiar 118 per cent, taking into account the fully vaccinated Spaniards who travel across its border each day for work.
Despite ongoing reassurance from world governments, the widespread vaccination of populations has unfortunately failed to ease rising case numbers for some densely populated nations.
The recent spike has put Christmas plans in the firing line for Gibraltar, which has been forced to reintroduce mandatory mask laws for indoor spaces and public transport.
"The drastic increase in the numbers of people testing positive for Covid-19 in recent days is a stark reminder that the virus is still very prevalent in our community and that it is the responsibility of us all to take every reasonable precaution to protect ourselves and our loved ones," Health Minister Samantha Sacramento said.
Gibraltar's government has recommended civilians cancel plans going into the holiday break as the "exponential rise in cases" takes hold.
"The government intends to cancel a number of its functions including official Christmas parties, official receptions and similar gatherings," the official release read.
"We strongly advise against any large informal social events, parties or receptions being held over at least the next four weeks."
Civilians have been told to "take note of those who remain in close proximity to you" and to "be ready to provide this information if asked by the Contact Tracing Bureau".
Gibraltar was lauded in March 2021 for becoming the first recognised nation to vaccinate the entirety of its eligible population. However, with a sizeable portion of the population having their second dose months ago, the government is now facing the unfortunate issue of waning immunity.
Data from Pfizer and BioNTech has revealed their Covid-19 jab's effectiveness weakens after around five months.
An October study published in The Lancet found that while the Pfizer mRNA vaccine was 88 per cent effective at preventing infection during the first month after a second dose, it was only 47 per cent effective at preventing infection 150 days later.
Another factor is the age of the unvaccinated population, as until last month Gibraltar did not offer vaccination to anyone under 16.
In a public statement last month, the government said "there has been a recent rise in cases amongst school-age children, who often socialise and attend extra-curricular activities outside of the school setting".
Sacramento reassured citizens the government had secured enough booster doses and is currently rolling out third jabs for those over 40 and the immunocompromised.
"The vaccination programme for 12 to 15-year-olds and the booster vaccination programme are now under way, and Gibraltar received 4680 more doses this week," she said.
"Everyone who is eligible for a vaccine or a booster is strongly encouraged to take up the offer when they are called."
Gibraltar has had a total of 6509 coronavirus cases and 98 deaths since the start of the pandemic. According to official data, there are currently five people in hospital, one of whom in intensive care, while a total of 440 close contacts remain in isolation.
Several other countries are also experiencing huge spikes in coronavirus transmission after opening up society following the meeting of vaccination targets.
In October, cases and deaths briefly reached new highs in Singapore, a country with vaccination coverage of 94 per cent. The population of 5.9 million recorded a whopping 25,950 new cases in the week of October 25 alone.
In Ireland, which has 92 per cent of its eligible population covered, deaths and transmission rates from the virus have roughly doubled since August.
Speaking in a November 12 address, WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus shone light on the expanding Covid spread across Europe. Almost two million cases were reported in the region last week, the most seen in a single week since the beginning of the pandemic.
Tedros' statement came as The Netherlands became the first western European country to reintroduce lockdown laws since summer, after the nation reached a new high of 16,287 infections.
"Covid-19 is surging in countries with lower vaccination rates in Eastern Europe, but also in countries with some of the world's highest vaccination rates in Western Europe," he said.
"It's another reminder, as we have said again and again, that vaccines do not replace the need for other precautions. Vaccines reduce the risk of hospitalisation, severe disease and death. But they do not fully prevent transmission … no country can simply vaccinate its way out of the pandemic."
The WHO boss turned heads in his latest address by lashing countries for stockpiling vaccine doses, declaring booster schemes a "scandal that must stop now".
He also criticised countries moving towards vaccinating children as young as 5 when millions of other genuinely compromised adults were still left out to dry across the globe.
Vaccine boosters have been widely encouraged by health officials in affluent countries, but as millions in the West begin to line up for their third jab, millions in Africa are still left waiting for their first.
According to WHO data, only five African countries, less than 10 per cent of the continent's 54 nations, are expected to hit their 2021 target of fully vaccinating 40 per cent of their citizens.
"Every day, there are 6 times more boosters administered globally than primary Covid-19 vaccine doses in low-income countries. This is a scandal that must stop now," Tedros said.
- Additional reporting, NZ Herald