The World Health Organization (WHO) has issued a new warning about the spread of coronavirus across Europe, saying it is “of grave concern”.
Dr Hans Kluge, regional director for Europe at the WHO, warned that while infection rates are decreasing in Western Europe, the picture across the continent as a whole is more worrying.
“The resurgence is moving eastward with the hardest hit countries now in central and southern Europe,” he said.
“These reports are of grave concern; a stark reminder of the fact that the vast majority of us remain susceptible to the virus.”
— WHO/Europe (@WHO_Europe) December 3, 2020
Dr Kluge said there have been more than 19 million cases of COVID-19 in Europe, with more than four million in November alone.
He said despite a decline in new cases for the third consecutive week, the continent still accounts for 40% of new global cases and 50% of new global deaths, with almost half of the countries within the region continue to show an increasing trend.
“In week 48 alone, over 35,000 new deaths were reported from across the region,” he said.
He called for countries who have seen a drop in infection rates to “use this time wisely” to prepare for future spikes.
“This is a time for responsible leadership,” he said. “To those countries seeing a decline in transmission, use this time wisely. Consider scaling-up the public health infrastructure and preparing for the next surge, ask what can be improved to help us manage better in the future
“The virus still has the potential to do enormous damage unless we do everything in our power to stop its spread. And part of the solution will be vaccination.”
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His comments come the day after it was announced that the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID vaccine has been approved for use in the UK, with its rollout expected to start next week.
The government has said it is expecting several million doses of the vaccine before the end of the year, but Boris Johnson warned people not to “get their hopes up” about the speed of the rollout.
Dr Kluge said the promise of vaccines was “phenomenal” and “potentially game-changing” but called for “preparedness”.
He said: “To assure that we reap the full reward of those vaccines we need to have plans in place.
“Taking immediate stock of the status of our preparedness, now, in advance of the arrival of vaccines, is absolutely essential.”
He added: “We are working with countries to strengthen their readiness for vaccine introduction, their cold chain capacity, vaccine safety monitoring, communication and community engagement.
“With supply expected to be very limited in the initial stage of delivery, all countries must decide who should be vaccinated first to maximise the impact of limited doses in reducing the burden of disease in each country context.
“Our recommendations are that health and social care workers, adults over 60 years of age and residents and staff of long-term care facilities, should be prioritised for access to COVID-19 vaccines in the context of limited supply.”
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