The World Health Organization warned Tuesday that Europe’s death toll from the coronavirus-borne illness COVID-19 could exceed 2 million by March, as cases have climbed to nearly 4,200 a day and the illness has become the No. 1 cause of death on the continent.
WHO European regional director Dr. Hans Kluge said Europe needs to take a “vaccine plus” approach to the crisis, meaning that people must not just get vaccinated or receive a booster dose if offered, but also continue to comply with the public safety measures recommended since early last year: wearing face masks in public, socially distancing or avoiding large indoor gatherings, and frequent hand washing.
“Today, the COVID-19 situation across Europe and Central Asia is very serious. We face a challenging winter ahead, but we should not be without hope, because all of us — governments, health authorities, individuals — can take decisive action to stabilize the pandemic,” Kluge said in a statement.
His comments come amid protests in several European countries at new measures to curb the spread of the virus that were reimposed after being dropped as countries reopened. The Netherlands, Denmark and Norway, for example, told their citizens they no longer needed to wear face masks in public when they reopened, a move they have now reversed amid a surge in new cases.
Kluge said the highly transmissible delta variant is to blame, along with the easing of those very measures, which sent the wrong message to people that the pandemic was close to an end.
“We can expect that there will be high or extreme stress on hospital beds in 25 countries, and high or extreme stress in intensive-care units in 49 out of 53 countries between now and 1 March 2022,” said the statement.
Recognizing the dire situation in Europe, the U.S. State Department has added Germany and Denmark to the list of countries it is advising Americans to avoid, because of COVID-19.
Germany’s health minister, Jens Spahn, gave an ominous warning Monday that by the end of winter, “pretty much everyone in Germany … will be vaccinated, cured or dead.”
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The White House, meanwhile, has said the U.S. is unlikely to lock down again even though cases are still rising at an average clip of almost 94,000 a day, according to a New York Times tracker. Deaths continue to average more than 1,000 a day, too, and more than 50,000 people living in the U.S. are being hospitalized every day.
As most of the people affected are unvaccinated, it is crucial for that group to get their shots. White House coronavirus response coordinator Jeff Zients said at a Monday briefing that 82% of Americans have now had at least one shot of a vaccine.
However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s vaccine tracker is showing that 196 million Americans are fully vaccinated, equal to just 59.2% of the overall population. That number has barely nudged higher in weeks and is still below the 70% threshold experts say is needed to stop the spread.
Zients said the government managed to achieve 95% compliance with its mandate that federal workers get their shots by a Monday deadline and that 90% are already vaccinated.
There are growing concerns that travel for the Thanksgiving holiday this week will lead to another rise in cases.
Elsewhere, Israel has started to vaccinate children aged 5 to 11 with the children’s version of the vaccine developed by Pfizer
and German partner BioNTech
the Times of Israel reported.
The prime minister of France, Jean Castex, has tested positive for COVID, after returning from a visit with ministers in Brussels, CNN reported. That means his Belgian counterpart, Alexander de Croo, and four other ministers have been forced to quarantine.
India recorded its smallest rise in new COVID cases in 543 days on Tuesday, Reuters reported. The improvement has come despite huge festival gatherings in recent weeks and is being attributed to a high vaccination rate and the presence of antibodies from prior infections.
The global tally for the coronavirus-borne illness climbed above 258.4 million on Tuesday, while the death toll edged above 5.16 million, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University.
The U.S. continues to lead the world with a total of 47.9 million cases and 772,445 deaths.
India is second by cases after the U.S. at 34.5 million and has suffered 466,147 deaths. Brazil has the second highest death toll at 612,782 and 22 million cases.
In Europe, Russia has recorded the most fatalities at 261,526, followed by the U.K. at 144,414.
China, where the virus was first discovered late in 2019, has had 111,011 confirmed cases and 4,809 deaths, according to its official numbers, which are widely held to be massively understated.