The World Health Organization’s regional director for Europe said Thursday the continent is now the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic, accounting for 59 percent of all cases globally.
At a virtual news briefing from Copenhagen, Hans Kluge said the current pace of transmission across the region’s 53 countries is of grave concern. He said new cases are approaching record levels, with the delta variant of the coronavirus driving the surge.
Kluge said his agency’s latest data shows hospitalizations in the region more than doubled in one week.
He noted officials are seeing increasing trends across all age groups, but that the rapid increase in the older population is of the most concern. He said this is translating into more people having severe cases and dying, with 75 percent of the deaths among persons aged 65 or older.
Kluge said one reliable projection indicates that at the current pace, Europe could see another half a million COVID-19 deaths by the first of February. COVID-19 is caused by the coronavirus.
He also cited uneven vaccination rates and the relaxation of public health and social measures throughout the region as the cause of the surge.
While a billion doses of vaccine have been distributed, in Europe, only 47 percent of the total population are fully vaccinated. He says in eight nations, at least 70 percent of the people have been inoculated fully. Kluge notes the rate remains below 10 percent in two other countries.
Kluge encouraged nations with low vaccination rates to increase coverage, particularly among priority groups such as the elderly. He urged nations with high vaccination rates and ample supply to share with less fortunate nations.
He also said that vaccines are most effective when used with other preventive measures, such as social distancing and mask-wearing. Kluge said if the region achieved universal mask use, 188,000 lives could be saved between now and February.
The WHO region chief said, “We must change our tactics, from reacting to surges” of COVID-19 to “preventing them from happening in the first place.”