The World Health Organization has warned that with COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations and death rate declining fast across the Europe, the risk of a deadly resurgence remains high. It pointed out that the region is easing lockdown and restrictions and opening up to the more transmissible Delta variant advances.
Hans Kluge, WHO Europe’s regional director, told The Guardian that community transmission was still widespread and would continue as travel and social gatherings increased. He urged people and governments to exercise caution and common sense over the summer.
“We have been here before. 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,” he said. “Let’s not make that mistake again.”
Kluge said Europe had so far recorded 55 m infections and 1.2 m deaths, but cases, hospital admissions and deaths had now fallen for two consecutive months with 368,000 new cases reported last week – barely 20% of the April weekly figure. “But we are by no means out of danger. If you choose to travel, do it responsibly. Be conscious of the risks. Apply common sense and don’t jeopardize hard-earned gains. Wash your hands, keep a distance, choose open settings, wear a mask.”
Highlighting WHO’s new campaign, “Summer Sense”, the region director said the organization wanted people to enjoy the summer – but safely. “If you want to travel, think about the need. If you decide to, do it safely.” He said governments must make use of a better epidemiological situation to further increase testing, tracing, hospital capacity.
Katy Smallwood, a senior emergency officer, described the Delta variant, which was first detected in India, as of particular concern. She said that it is not yet prevalent in the European region, but in some countries it has already displaced the dominant Alpha variant. “We have seen very significant evidence of significantly higher transmissibility, we have seen initial basis for increased risk of hospitalization, and we have 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.”