High risk of autumn Covid surge in Europe despite drop in infections, says WHO
Covid-19 infections, hospitalisations and deaths are falling fast across Europe but the risk of a deadly autumn resurgence remains high as societies open up and the more transmissible Delta variant advances, the World Health Organization has warned.
Urging people and governments to exercise “caution and common sense” over the summer, the WHO Europe’s regional director, Hans Kluge, said community transmission was still widespread and would continue as travel and social gatherings increased.
“We’ve been here before,” Kluge said. “Last summer, cases gradually rose in younger age groups, then moved into older age groups, leading to a devastating … loss of life in the autumn and winter of 2020. Let’s not make that mistake again.”
Katy Smallwood, senior emergency officer, said the Delta variant first detected in India was of particular concern. She said: “It is not yet prevalent in the European region, but in some countries has already displaced the dominant Alpha variant.
“We’ve seen very significant evidence of significantly higher transmissibility, we’ve seen initial basis for increased risk of hospitalisation, and we’ve seen some evidence of immune escape, especially after only one dose of vaccine. Our assessment is that this does pose a significant risk in terms of community transmission.”
Kluge said a new WHO campaign, Summer Sense, was meant to encourage people to “enjoy the summer, but safely … If you want to travel, think about the need. If you decide to, do it safely.” Governments must “make use of a better epidemiological situation to further increase testing, tracing, hospital capacity. Learn the lessons from last year.”
Both officials warned that while Europe was vaccinating at a much faster rate, with 30% of people having received at least one dose and 17% fully vaccinated, coverage “was still far from sufficient to protect the region from a resurgence” and “many among vulnerable populations above the age of 60 remain unprotected”.
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