Health and Science

Europe and Central Asia could suffer another 700,000 Covid deaths by spring as infections soar, WHO says

Key Points
  • The World Health Organization's office for Europe said Covid deaths could rise by 700,000 over the coming months.
  • The 53-country region is facing a surge of infection which has led to a lockdown in Austria and curbs in the Netherlands. Germany is also weighing tougher measures.
  • The WHO said masks, physical distancing, testing and contact tracing are crucial to slow the spread in addition to vaccination.
A patient suffering from COVID-19 receives treatment at the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) Intensive Care Unit (ICU) of the "Klinikum Darmstadt" clinic in Darmstadt, Germany, May 20, 2021.
Kai Pfaffenbach | Reuters

Europe and Central Asia could reach more than 2.2 million total Covid-19 deaths by next March as countries battle a surge of the highly transmissible delta variant, the World Health Organization's office for the region wrote in a statement released Tuesday.

The forecast for the months ahead comes as the 53-country region passes 1.5 million Covid deaths, with the virus now becoming the leading cause of death in both Europe and Central Asia, the WHO's Europe branch said. The region is currently experiencing nearly 4,200 deaths per day, twice the daily deaths recorded at the end of September, the statement noted.

The WHO's regional office in Copenhagen, Denmark covers Europe as well as Israel, Turkey and the Central Asian nations of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

"In order to live with this virus and continue our daily lives, we need to take a 'vaccine plus' approach," Dr. Hans Henri Kluge, the WHO's regional director for Europe, said in the statement. "This means getting the standard doses of vaccine, taking a booster if offered, as well as incorporating preventive measures into our normal routines."

As Europe locks down, White House reassures Americans that won't happen here
As Europe locks down, White House reassures Americans that won't happen here

In addition to the enhanced contagiousness of the delta strain, the statement blamed the region's surge on the continent's unvaccinated population and the decision of many countries to roll back mask wearing and social distancing. The WHO previously cautioned that winter could drive outbreaks in Europe as people gather close together indoors with poor ventilation, conditions that facilitate transmission of the virus.

Bracing for a "challenging winter," Kluge called on the public to help avoid lockdowns and disruptions to the economy by taking precautions including the use of facial coverings, physical distancing as well as testing and contact tracing. The statement also urged countries to consider administering booster doses to health-care personnel and anyone over 60 to combat the waning effectiveness of available vaccines.

The WHO anticipates that 49 of the region's 53 countries could see high or extreme stress on their intensive care units between now and March 2022. High or extreme stress on hospital beds is projected to affect 25 countries as well.  

Infections in the region started rising during the week ended Sept. 19, when WHO researchers measured a seven-day total of roughly 1.1 million new cases. The organization reported more than 2.4 million new cases as of the week ended Nov. 21. That's approximately 67% of all Covid cases worldwide during that period, according to the WHO's most recent weekly epidemiological update.

Germany set a pandemic record Monday with a seven-day average of more than 51,000 daily new cases, according to a CNBC analysis of data from Johns Hopkins University. And Russia reported a record-high seven-day average of almost 1,218 daily Covid deaths for the week ended Monday, Hopkins measured.

Climbing infections in Austria led Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg to enact a nationwide vaccine mandate effective Feb. 1 and launch the country's fourth lockdown on Monday. The government in Vienna said the lockdown would last no more than 20 days. The Netherlands also introduced a partial lockdown on Saturday, closing certain businesses early and blocking fans from attending sporting events for three weeks.

Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel has also called for tougher measures to control the wave of infection in Europe's largest economy.