New Delhi: The World Health Organization (WHO) on Tuesday said that Europe remains ‘firmly gripped’ by COVID-19 and the continent’s death toll may top 22 lakhs (2.2 million) by spring next year if current trends continue. According to the WHO, 700,000 more people could die by March 1 in the 53 countries in the European region, on top of the 15 lakhs (1.5 million) who have already died due to the virus.
“Cumulative reported deaths are projected to reach over 2.2 million by spring next year, based on current trends,” said the WHO on Tuesday.
There is an upsurge in the pandemic in Europe, which led Austria to put the country back on lockdown this week, and Germany and the Netherlands are set to announce additional restrictions.
The global health agency further expects “high or extreme stress in intensive care units (ICUs) in 49 out of 53 countries between now and March 1, 2022”.
Several factors have contributed to Europe’s return to the epicentre of the pandemic, including slow vaccination in some nations, the Delta variant, colder weather forcing people indoors, and easing of restrictions.
A total of 67.7 per cent of the European Union’s population is fully vaccinated.
While rates vary widely among countries, they are low in many eastern countries. Compared to Portugal, where 86.7 per cent of its citizens are fully vaccinated, only 24.2 per cent of Bulgarians are.
WHO data showed that the number of COVID-related deaths increased in Europe last week to around 4,200 a day, up from 2,100 a day at the end of September.
There was growing evidence that vaccines’ protection against infection and mild disease was eroding, it added.
There are several countries, including Greece, France and Germany, that are moving towards requiring a third booster shot before a person can be considered fully vaccinated.
Germany is doing too little to stop its “highly dramatic” fourth wave of the pandemic, Chancellor Angela Merkel asserted.
Intensive care beds are rapidly filling up and the weekly incidence rate is at an all-time high of 399.8 infections per 100,000 people, prompting new shutdowns in Germany’s worst-hit regions.
A spokesman for the German Defence Ministry said coronavirus vaccinations will be added to the list of mandatory vaccines for soldiers “soon”.
As a result, troops would be the first German public servants required to get vaccinated against the virus.
Since the number of COVID-19 cases in Germany and Denmark is surging, the US State Department has warned Americans not to travel there.
As a result of the rise in cases and hospitalisations, a fierce debate has erupted about whether Germany should take Austria’s lead and set mandatory vaccination requirements for all citizens.
Shops, restaurants, and holiday markets were closed in Austria on Monday, the most drastic restrictions in the Western European region in months.
‘Vaccine plus’ approach
Israel, which comes in the WHO’s European region, began vaccinations on Tuesday for children aged five to 11. It is one of only a few countries that inoculates children that young.
It said that nearly half of the recently confirmed cases were among children under 11 years of age.
France’s Prime Minister Jean Castex, who is fully vaccinated, was placed in isolation late on Monday after a positive test, after his daughter caught the virus.
According to WHO Europe’s regional director Hans Kluge, Europe and Central Asia face a “challenging winter”.
He advocated a “vaccine plus” approach consisting of vaccinations, social distancing, face masks, and washing hands.
The WHO mentioned a recent study as saying that face masks reduced COVID-19 incidence by 53 per cent and that 95 per cent universal mask coverage could prevent over 160,000 deaths by March 1.