The World Health Organization’s regional director for Europe said on Thursday that the continent is now the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic, accounting for 59 percent of all cases globally.
In a virtual news briefing from Copenhagen, Hans Kluge said the current speed of transmission in 53 countries in the region is of grave concern. With new cases approaching record levels, the delta version of the coronavirus is booming, he said.
Kluge said the latest figures from his agency showed the number of hospitalizations in the region more than doubled in a week.
He said the authorities are seeing an increasing trend across all age groups, but the rapid growth in the elderly population is of most concern. He said that this is turning into severe cases and fatalities with 75 per cent deaths among persons 65 and above.
Kluge said a credible projection indicates that at the current pace, Europe could see half a million COVID-19 deaths by the first of February. COVID-19 is caused by the coronavirus.
He cited uneven vaccination rates and relaxation of public health and social measures across the region as the reason for the boom.
While one billion doses of the vaccine have been distributed, in Europe, only 47 percent of the total population has been fully vaccinated. He says at least 70 percent of people in eight countries have been fully vaccinated. Kluge noted that in two other countries the rate is below 10 percent.
Kluge encouraged countries with low vaccination rates to increase coverage, especially among priority groups such as the elderly. He urged countries with high vaccination rates and adequate supplies to share with less fortunate countries.
He also said that vaccines are most effective when used in conjunction with other preventive measures, such as social distancing and wearing masks. Kluge said 188,000 lives could be saved between now and February if the region achieved universal mask use.
“We must change our strategy, from response to escalation” of COVID-19 “to prevent them from occurring in the first place”, said the WHO’s field chief.