WHO Europe chief voices ‘grave concern’ about COVID rebound

The head of a World Health Organization regional office says a 53-country region in Europe and Central Asia faces the “real threat” of a resurgence of the coronavirus pandemic in the coming weeks or already is experiencing it

Dr. Hans Kluge said case counts are beginning to near record levels again and the pace of transmission in the region, which stretches as far east as the former Soviet republics in Central Asia, is of “grave concern.”

“We are at another critical point of pandemic resurgence,” Kluge told reporters from the WHO Europe headquarters in Copenhagen, Denmark. “Europe is back at the epicenter of the pandemic, where we were one year ago.”

Kluge said hospitalization rates due to COVID-19 in the 53-country region more than doubled over the last week. If that trajectory continues, the region could see another 500,000 pandemic deaths by February, he said.

WHO Europe says the region tallied nearly 1.8 million new weekly cases, an increase of about 6% from the previous week, and 24,000 COVID-19 weekly deaths — a 12% gain.

Kluge said the countries in the region were at “varying stages of vaccination rollout” and that regionwide an average of 47% of people were fully vaccinated. Only eight countries had 70% of their populations fully vaccinated.

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

WHO’s headquarters in Geneva on Wednesday reported that cases had risen in Europe for the fifth consecutive week, making it the only world region where COVID-19 is still increasing. The infection rate was by far the highest in Europe, which reported some 192 new cases per 100,000 people.

Sweden’s chief epidemiologist, Anders Tegnell, said Thursday that “we are clearly in another wave,” and added that “the increased spread is entirely concentrated in Europe.”

Several countries in Central and Eastern Europe have seen daily case numbers shoot up in recent weeks.

At an online briefing Thursday by the Amsterdam-based European Medicines Agency, experts urged people to get vaccinated.

“The epidemiological situation in Europe is very concerning now as we head into the winter with increases in infection rates, hospitalization and we can also see the increase in fatalities,” said Fergus Sweeney, the EMA’s head of clinical studies and manufacturing task force.

He stressed that “it’s very important that everybody gets vaccinated or completes their dose of vaccination if they’ve already had a first dose but not a second dose. It’s really important that we’re all vaccinated because we are not all protected until everyone is protected in that respect.”

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