Every country in Europe and Central Asia faces the threat of a COVID-19 resurgence, the World Health Organization’s Europe region head said Thursday, voicing “grave concern” as cases again reach record levels.
“Last week, with nearly 1.8 million new cases and 24,000 new deaths reported, Europe and Central Asia saw a 6% increase and 12% increase, respectively, as compared to the previous week,” said Hans Kluge.
Over the past four weeks, he observed that Europe has seen a greater than 55% increase in new COVID-19 cases.
“The current pace of transmission across the 53 countries of the European region is of grave concern,” Kluge said, noting that the more transmissible Delta variant is continuing to dominate transmission.
He said that where vaccine uptake is low, hospital admission rates are high in many countries in the Baltics, Central and Eastern Europe, and the Balkans.
The European region, extending from Greenland in the northwest to the Russian Far East, is seeing rising trends across all age groups, he said.
The rapid climb in the older population groups is of greatest concern, he said, translating into more people with severe disease and dying.
Over-65s make up 75% of fatal cases
Currently, 75% of fatal cases are in persons 65 years and over, with hospitalization admission rates due to COVID-19 more than doubling in one week, based on WHO Europe’s latest data.
“Preventive measures, when applied correctly and consistently, allow us to go on with our lives, not the opposite,” said Kluge.
“Preventive measures do not deprive people of their freedom; they ensure it.”
He said the best way to avoid lockdowns, an absolute last resort, is to apply preventative measures and keep COVID-19 transmission low.
“As we enter the flu season, we face the prospect of both influenza and COVID-19 circulating. The same preventive measures work against both viruses, and we have effective and safe vaccines for both.”
Hospitalization admission rates due to COVID-19 more than doubled over the last week, based on WHO/Europe’s latest data.
“According to one reliable projection, if we stay on this trajectory, we could see another half a million COVID-19 deaths in Europe and Central Asia by the first of February next year,” said Kluge.
He said that 43 countries in the region would face high to extreme stress on hospital beds during the same period.
Last week, Europe and Central Asia accounted for 59% of all cases globally and 48% of reported deaths.
There are now more reported cases – 78 million – in the European Region, than in Southeast Asia, the Eastern Mediterranean, the Western Pacific, and Africa combined.
Vaccines continue to save thousands of lives, said Kluge.
“Despite near-record COVID-19 cases, new deaths are at approximately half the peak levels,” he said.
“This reflects the life-saving effects of vaccines and the herculean task of health authorities, health workforce, and communities to develop, administer and accept vaccines.”
One billion doses have now been administered in Europe and Central Asia.
On average, only 47% of people have completed an entire vaccination series for European and Central Asia countries.
Eight countries have now exceeded 70% coverage; in two, the rate remains below 10%, said the WHO regional chief.