The World Health Organization reports that Europe is back being the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic. In the last week, nearly 1.8 million new cases were reported in the region – that includes the Russian Federation and several former Soviet republics – as well as 24,000 weekly deaths. That’s an increase of six percent in cases and 12 percent in deaths on the previous week.
Cases have risen in the region for the last five weeks, with Russia, the UK, and Germany having tens of thousands of new cases daily each. The regional director for WHO Europe, Dr. Hans Kluge, stated that the situation is of grave concern and Europe risk facing 500,000 avoidable deaths by February,
“Europe is back at the epicenter of the pandemic, where we were one year ago,” Kluge said in a press conference. And he added: "We must change our tactics, from reacting to surges of Covid-19 to preventing them from happening in the first place."
Kluge continues to recommend that people get the vaccine and continue to social distance, wear masks, and make sure indoor areas are well ventilated.
"It's very important to reflect that Europe represents over half of the global cases in the last week, but that trend can turn," Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO health emergencies program, stated in the same press conference.
"I think it's a warning shot for the world to see what's happening in Europe despite the availability of vaccination," he said. "And I think we all have to double down and recommit ourselves to doing everything we can to be the last person in the chain of transmission."
In the UK, the number of deaths has steadily increased through the summer, as hundreds of thousands of new cases were reported over the last several months. The Johnson government decided to remove all social distancing measures and remove any official mask mandate in July, as the country was still reporting over 40,000 daily cases.
In Germany, where about 67 percent of the population is vaccinated, the steep surge over the last few weeks is believed to be caused by unvaccinated people. The rate of vaccinations has slowed down in many countries, although countries such as Portugal, Spain, and Italy have given the first dose to at least 78 percent of their population.
The number of hospitalizations and deaths is concerning as they could coincide with periods of increased strain on hospitals as flu cases tend to increase in winter. This week the two worst countries in the region were Russia, which saw more than 8,100 deaths by COVID-19, and Ukraine, which reported 3,800 deaths.