WHO warns of 700,000 more COVID deaths in Europe by March

Nov 24, 2021: The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that Europe is in a “firm grip” of the corona virus pandemic and that if current trends continue, the death toll on the continent could exceed 2.2 million this winter.

The WHO said on Tuesday that in addition to the 1.5 million, by March 1, another 700,000 Europeans who have already been infected with the virus could die.

It expects “high or extreme stress in intensive care units (ICUs) in 49 out of 53 countries between now and March 1, 2022”.

Europe’s return as the pandemic’s epicentre has been blamed on sluggish vaccine uptake in some nations, the highly contagious Delta variant, colder weather moving people indoors again and the easing of restrictions.

According to WHO data, COVID-related deaths in its European region of 53 countries increased last week to nearly 4,200 a day, doubling from 2,100 deaths a day at the end of September.

It said evidence was growing that vaccine-induced protection against infection and mild disease was declining.

Several countries, including Greece, France and Germany, are moving towards requiring a third shot for someone to be considered fully vaccinated. Austria, meanwhile, closed shops, restaurants and festive markets on Monday, the most drastic restrictions seen in Western Europe for months.

With intensive care beds swiftly filling up and its weekly incidence rate at an all-time high of 399.8 new infections per 100,000 people, Germany’s worst-hit regions have ordered new shutdowns, including the closure of Christmas markets.

The WHO said a high number of unvaccinated people, as well as “reduced vaccine-induced protection”, were among the factors stoking high transmission in Europe alongside the dominance of the Delta variant and the relaxation of hygiene measures.

The regional director for WHO Europe, Hans Kluge, said Europe and Central Asia “face a challenging winter ahead”.

The WHO said face masks reduce COVID incidence by 53 percent according to a recent study, and “over 160,000 deaths could be prevented (by March 1) if universal mask coverage of 95 percent was achieved”.

But the prospect of a winter under renewed restrictions has sparked unrest in several countries.

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