Health and Science

WHO warns that Europe is once again at the epicenter of the Covid pandemic

Key Points
  • Europe is facing a worrying resurgence in Covid-19 cases, according to the the World Health Organization.
  • The two main reasons the WHO gave for Europe's soaring case numbers were insufficient vaccination coverage and the relaxation of public health and social measures.
  • Leading German health officials warned on Wednesday that the country was entering a fourth wave of the pandemic.
A doctor monitors a Covid-19 patient in the Covid-19 intensive care unit of the community hospital in Germany on April 28, 2021.
RONNY HARTMANN | AFP | Getty Images

LONDON — Europe is facing a worrying resurgence in Covid-19 cases, according to the WHO's Dr. Hans Kluge, who warned that the region was once again "at the epicenter of the pandemic."

Kluge, the WHO's regional director for Europe, which comprises 53 countries across Europe and central Asia, said the number of new daily cases was nearing record levels.

"Today every single country in Europe and Central Asia is facing a real threat of Covid-19 resurgence, or already fighting it. The current pace across the 53 countries is of grave concern," he said at a media briefing Thursday.

Last week, with nearly 1.8 million new cases and 24,000 new deaths reported, the WHO's European and central Asia region saw a 6% increase in infections and a 12% increase in fatalities, compared to the previous week, Kluge said.

The region accounted for 59% of all cases globally and 48% of reported deaths last week, he said.

If the region continues on this trajectory, Kluge said one "reliable projection" predicts there could be another 500,000 Covid-related deaths in the region by February 2022 and that 43 countries in the region would face high to extreme stress on hospital beds at some point in the same period.

"We must change our tactics, from reacting to surges of Covid-19, to preventing them from happening in the first place," Kluge said.

Record-breaking cases

The two main reasons the WHO's Kluge gave for Europe's soaring case numbers were insufficient vaccination coverage and the relaxation of public health and social measures.

There have been concerns about the increasing prevalence of a new mutation of the highly infectious delta variant as well as sluggish vaccination campaigns, booster vaccination drives and the onset of the winter season where viruses spread more easily with more people convening indoors.

Read more: The delta variant has a mutation that’s worrying experts: Here’s what we know so far

The U.K. has seen a sharp rise in cases for several months and cases have started to rise dramatically on mainland Europe in recent weeks, particularly in central and eastern Europe as well as Russia, but also in France and Germany, which have both expressed concern about the increase.

Germany reported almost 34,000 new daily infections on Thursday, breaking a record set in December 2020, Deutsche Welle reported. French health authorities reported 10,050 daily new infections on Wednesday, marking the first time the tally has topped 10,000 since Sept. 14, Reuters reported.

The daily number of deaths caused by the virus remains far below previous peaks in the pandemic, thanks to vaccines, but there are widespread concerns in Europe over lagging vaccination rates and the reduction of any Covid restrictions.

Pandemic not over

Leading German health officials warned on Wednesday that the country was entering a fourth wave of the pandemic and urged more people to take up Covid vaccines, which are proven to reduce severe infections, hospitalizations and deaths.

Speaking at a joint press conference, German Health Minister Jens Spahn and Lothar Wieler, the head of the Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases, said a slowdown in vaccination numbers was a problem, as was the number of unvaccinated people.

"The pandemic is anything but over," Spahn said, adding that it is now primarily a "pandemic of the unvaccinated — and it is massive," Deutsche Welle reported.

"If we do not act, this fourth wave will again bring a great deal of suffering. Many people will fall seriously ill and die, and the health services will be under extreme pressure again," the RKI's Wieler said.

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England's deputy chief medical officer Professor Jonathan Van-Tam made similar warnings on Wednesday, telling the BBC it was a concern that Covid levels were "running this hot, this early in the autumn season." He said too many people believed the pandemic was now over and that Christmas and the winter months are "potentially going to be problematic."

Covid cases have risen dramatically in the U.K. over the past few months, with the number of new daily infections hovering between 40,000-50,000 per day although the numbers in recent days have shown a tentative decrease; still, 41,299 new cases were reported on Wednesday.

Read more: The UK has one of the highest Covid infection rates in the world right now: Here’s why

The U.K. government has been very reluctant to re-impose Covid restrictions in the face of rising cases, having previously told the public that it needs to get used to living with the virus.