The regional director of the World Health Organization for Europe, Hans Kluge, said on Thursday that the continent is now the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic, with 59 percent of all cases globally. At a virtual press conference from Copenhagen, Mr Kluge said the current rate of virus transmission in 53 countries in the region is a major concern. He said the new cases are approaching record levels and that this is attributed to the delta variant of the coronavirus.
Mr. Kluge said the latest WHO data show that hospitalization cases on the continent have more than doubled in one week. The organisation’s regional director said officials are seeing an increasing trend of cases in all age groups, but that rapid growth among the elderly is the biggest concern. He said this has resulted in more serious cases and deaths, with 75 per cent of deaths among people aged 65 and over.
Kluge said a forecast from a reliable source indicates that at the current rate, Europe could have another half a million more deaths from COVID-19 by 1 February. Kluge cited uneven vaccination rates and the facilitation of public and social health measures across the region as reasons for the increase.
Although one billion doses of vaccine have been distributed, in Europe, only 47 percent of the total population is fully vaccinated. He says in eight countries, at least 70 percent of people have been fully vaccinated. Mr Kluge notes that the rate remains below 10 per cent in the other two countries. The WHO official encouraged countries with low vaccination rates to speed up vaccination, especially among high-priority groups such as the elderly. He urged countries with high vaccination rates and multiple reserves to share them with countries that do not have such an opportunity.
He also said vaccines are most effective when used with other preventative measures, such as physical distancing and wearing masks. Mr Kluge said that if the region achieves a universal use of masks, 188,000 lives could be saved between now and February. “We need to change our tactics, moving from responding to the rise” of COVID-19 cases to “preventing them,” Kluge said./VOA
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