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Europe faces real threat of Covid-19 resurgence, says WHO

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FRANKFURT: The rising number of cases of Covid-19 in Europe is of “grave concern” and the region could see another half a million deaths by early next year, the World Health Organisation (WHO) warned on Thursday.

With 78 million cases in the WHO’s European region – which spans 53 countries and territories and includes several nations in Central Asia – the cumulative toll now exceeded that of South-east Asia, the Eastern Mediterranean region, the Western Pacific, and Africa combined, the organisation said.

“We are, once again, at the epicentre,” WHO Europe director Hans Kluge told a press conference. Dr Kluge noted that the “current pace of transmission across the 53 countries of the European Region is of grave concern”.

According to “one reliable projection” the current trajectory would mean “another half a million Covid-19 deaths” by February, Dr Kluge added. The increases were observed “across all age groups,” he said.

Dr Kluge blamed the soaring caseload on “insufficient vaccination coverage” and “the relaxation of public health and social measures”. Hospital admission rates were higher in countries with lower vaccination rates, he said. Measures like testing, tracing, physical distancing and the use of face masks were still part of the “arsenal” in fighting the virus.

“We must change our tactics, from reacting to surges of Covid-19, to preventing them from happening in the first place,” Dr Kluge said. The number of new cases per day has been rising for nearly six consecutive weeks in Europe and the number of new deaths per day has been rising for just over seven consecutive weeks, with about 250,000 cases and 3,600 deaths per day, according to official country data compiled by AFP.

Over the past seven days, Russia has led the rise with 8,162 deaths, followed by Ukraine with 3,819 deaths and and Romania with 3,100 deaths, according to the data. Alarm bells were ringing especially in Germany, the European Union’s most populous country, where the number of new cases over the past 24 hours soared to almost 34,000 on Thursday — an all-time high, according to the Robert Koch Institute health agency.Meanwhile Britain on Thursday became the first country in the world to approve the use of Merck’s anti-Covid pill to treat patients suffering from mild to moderate coronavirus infections.

Health minister Sajid Javid called the molnupiravir antiviral “a game-changer for the most vulnerable and the immunosuppressed”. German Health Minister Jens Spahn said on Wednesday that the country of 83 million people was facing a “massive” pandemic among the unvaccinated and that intensive care beds were starting to run out in some regions.

“Corona is once again raging with full force, the fourth wave is hitting us hard,” the top-selling Bild daily wrote. The WHO’s Europe region — which spans 53 countries and territories and includes several nations in Central Asia — has now recorded 78 million cases since Covid-19 first emerged in China in late 2019.

The cumulative figure exceeds that of South East Asia, the Eastern Mediterranean region, the Western Pacific, and Africa combined, the organisation said. The “current pace of transmission” across the European region “is of grave concern”, Kluge said.

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