The World Health Organization (WHO) said Tuesday that COVID-19 is the top cause of death across Europe and Central Asia, with 1.5 million fatalities reported, and a warning that the toll could hit more than 2 million by March.
“Today, COVID-19 is the number one cause of death across Europe and Central Asia, as reported by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, who carry out modeling for WHO/Europe,” said the WHO, predicting stress on hospital beds in 25 countries.
Last week, reported deaths due to COVID-19 rose to nearly 4,200 a day, double the 2,100 deaths a day at the end of September, said the WHO.
Hans Kluge, the WHO’s regional director, called for a stepped-up campaign to vaccinate those at risk of getting COVID-19, and wearing a mask was recommended to help hold down the toll.
“This means getting the standard doses of vaccine, taking a booster if offered, as well as incorporating preventive measures into our normal routines,” said Kluge.
‘Wear masks, ventilate’
“Taken together, wearing a mask, washing hands, ventilating indoor spaces, keeping physical distance, and sneezing into your elbow are simple, effective ways of gaining control over the virus and keeping societies going.”
WHO's Europe Region includes 53 countries and extends from Greenland in the northwest to the Russian Far East.
Kluge said everyone can help avert unnecessary tragedy and loss of life and limit further disruption to society and businesses over the winter season.
“We can expect that there will be high or extreme stress on hospital beds in 25 countries, and high or extreme stress in intensive care units in 49 out of 53 countries between now and 1 March 2022,” said Kluge.
“Cumulative reported deaths are projected to reach over 2.2 million by spring next year, based on current trends.”
He said that in the European region the virus’ Delta variant is dominant and highly transmissible, with no country reporting more than 1% of any other variant.
The WHO said that in recent months many countries had indicated to the public that COVID-19 no longer represents an emergency threat and had eased measures such as mask-wearing and physical distancing in crowded or confined spaces.
“With a large number of people who are still not vaccinated, and reduced vaccine-induced protection against infection and mild disease, many people are left vulnerable to the virus,” it warned.
COVID-19 vaccines are a vital tool to prevent severe disease and death and have remained effective despite the emergence of several variants of concern, said the health organization.
53.5% completed vaccination
More than 1 billion doses have been given in the WHO European Region, with 53.5% of people completing their vaccine dose series.
However, the data hides wide differences between countries, where the range in completed vaccine dose series spans from under 10% to over 80% of the total population.
Currently, 48% of people in the European Region wear a mask when leaving home, according to self-reported data.
A study published last week on the effectiveness of public health measures suggested that mask-wearing reduces COVID-19 incidence by 53%.
“If from today universal mask coverage of 95% was achieved, it is estimated that over 160,000 deaths could be prevented by March,” said the WHO.