The EU could surpass two million coronavirus deaths by next March if further action isn’t taken to combat the virus, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned.
More protective measures are needed to “help avert unnecessary tragedy and loss of life”, according to experts who fear the region is on course to pass another landmark number of deaths.
Europe is in the midst of a fourth virus wave, which has seen nations forced to re-introduce lockdowns and restrictions to help stem soaring case and death rates.
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Last week, reported deaths due to COVID-19 in the region increased to nearly 4,200 a day – doubling from 2,100 deaths a day during the end of September.
Meanwhile, cumulative deaths across Europe’s 53 countries have passed the 1.5 million mark and the virus is now the leading cause of death, modelling by Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, has found.
“All of us have the opportunity and responsibility to help avert unnecessary tragedy and loss of life, and limit further disruption to society and businesses over this winter season,” Dr Hans Henri Kluge, WHO regional director for Europe, said.
According to the WHO, current calculations suggest there will be extreme stress on hospital beds in 25 countries, and high or extreme stress in intensive care units in 49 out of 53 countries between now and 1 March 2022.
Cumulative reported deaths are projected to reach over 2.2 million by spring next year, based on current trends.
On Monday, Austria began a 10-day national lockdown – the first European nation to re-enter lockdown since vaccines became widely available. It comes after cases shot up to 15,000 a day from a few hundred a day in the summer.
Germany and the Netherlands have been told they face tighter restrictions. The prospect of further curbs has prompted angry protests in some nations.
Dr Kulge, like other experts, is advocating for vaccinations, boosters, mask-wearing, social distancing and ventilation to be incorporated into people’s everyday routines to help keep others safe and prevent further lockdowns.
Certain factors are driving the current virus wave on the continent.
Many countries are seeing a resurgence of coronavirus after relaxing restrictions, helped by the dominance of the more transmissible Delta variant of SARS-CoV-2, which is spreading faster now people are gathering indoors in the winter months.
Meanwhile, with a large number of unvaccinated people, and waning protection amongst those who haven’t received booster jabs, many are left vulnerable to the virus.
More than one billion doses have been given in the WHO European Region, with 53.5% of people having completed their vaccine schedule.
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However, this hides wide differences between countries, where the range in completed vaccine dose series spans from under 10% to over 80% of the total population.
Dr Kluge added: “As we approach the end of 2021, let’s do everything we can by getting vaccinated and taking personal protective measures, to avoid the last resort of lockdowns and school closures.
“We know through bitter experience that these have extensive economic consequences and a pervasive negative impact on mental health, facilitate interpersonal violence and are detrimental to children’s well-being and learning.”