COVID waning everywhere, so why’s Europe facing a fresh surge?

The continent, back as ‘the epicentre of the pandemic’, could be paying the price for uneven vaccination

COVID-19
The WHO said in a bulletin that about two-thirds of all global COVID infections last week were in Europe. (Representational image)

Europe, among the earliest COVID vaccine adopters, is suddenly in the news for its rising number of cases and deaths. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has shared data revealing that the region, over the past week, saw COVID deaths increase 10%, with cases rising 7%. The cases and deaths had risen for the sixth consecutive week.

The WHO further said in its bulletin that about two-thirds of all global COVID infections were in Europe. The number of weekly COVID deaths, meanwhile, dropped around 4% worldwide. There were declines in individual regions, too, barring Europe and Central Asia. Under the European region, the WHO includes 61 nations, including Russia.

More trouble in the offing

Europe is “back at the epicentre of the pandemic,” remarked WHO’s Europe Director Hans Kluge. He went on to caution that the continent may witness another 500,000 deaths by February unless stringent action is taken to rein in the pandemic.

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The WHO weekly report said the countries with the most numbers of new COVID cases were the US, Russia, the UK, Turkey and Germany. There were around 3.1 million new cases across the world, up 1% from the earlier week. Of the total cases, round 1.9 million, or two-thirds, were from Europe, which presented a rise of 7% from the previous week.

In the Americas, on the other hand, new weekly cases fell 5% while deaths declined 14%. There, the US topped the list. In Southeast Asia and Africa, where vaccination rates are far lower, fatalities fell by a third during the week in review.

Even as the medical community is raising alarm on the COVID surge in Europe, government officials in most of the countries there have emphasised they will not resort to lockdowns. Rather, the focus will be on increasing the vaccination drive.

In Germany, for instance, only 67% of the population is fully vaccinated, official data suggest. A higher level is seen to bring down the deaths, if not the infections. The German standing committee on vaccinations has now published new recommendations that advise citizens under the age of 30 to go for the vaccine developed by Pfizer-BioNTech.

Meanwhile, in Russia, new cases and deaths are soaring. Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova reportedly told a government meeting earlier this week that over 80% of hospital beds reserved for COVID patients were now occupied.

Vaccination holds key

Uneven vaccine coverage, and a lack of preventive measures such as movement curbs and social distancing, are seen as the biggest reasons for the surge in Europe. While the country’s overall vaccination rate is comparatively high, the spread is uneven. There are some European countries with more than 70% complete vaccination, and some — mainly in Eastern Europe — with barely 10%, say healthcare observers.

“The message has always been: do it all,” WHO’s Kluge was quoted as saying. “Vaccines are doing what was promised: preventing severe forms of the disease and especially mortality. But they are our most powerful asset only if used alongside public health and social measures.”

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