COVID pandemic may not be over until 2022, WHO Europe boss warns

Dr Hans Kluge: 'No one can predict the course of a pandemic.' (WHO Regional Office for Europe/YouTube)
Dr Hans Kluge: 'No one can predict the course of a pandemic.' (WHO Regional Office for Europe/YouTube)

A World Health Organization (WHO) leader has warned it may be 2022 before we are “done with the pandemic”.

Dr Hans Kluge, regional director of WHO Europe, suggested coronavirus restrictions could still be in place for some time to come.

“No-one can predict the course of a pandemic,” he said at a press conference on Thursday.

Earlier this week, Boris Johnson set a target date of 21 June at the earliest for lifting all restrictions on social contact in England.

However, Dr Kluge, when talking about the prospects of Europe as a whole, appeared to be less optimistic.

He said: “As a working assumption, I would think that the beginning of 2022 we may be done with the pandemic, with a lot of disruptive interventions, but the virus will still not be at bay.

“This really depends on our individual and collective behaviours. The public health measures need to be adhered to.”

As well as adherence to restrictions, the rollout of vaccines is also considered key to returning to normality.

Watch: UK's coronavirus vaccine in numbers

However, numerous European countries have endured well-documented problems in rolling out the jabs, and are well behind the UK.

As of Tuesday, according to Oxford University’s Our World in Data website, the UK had administered 27.34 vaccine doses per 100 people: the third-highest in the world.

(Our World in Data)
(Our World in Data)

By comparison, the dose rates per 100 people in Spain, Germany, Italy and France were 6.77, 6.41, 6.12 and 5.66 respectively.

Meanwhile, Dr Kluge also warned Europe’s current COVID infection numbers remain high compared to the end of the first wave last year, as he urged caution among those “eagerly awaiting a return to a new normal”.

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He said: “New reported cases have declined by almost a half since the end of 2020.

“However, to put that into perspective, the number of new cases in the region now is 10 times higher than in May last year.”

In the week up to Sunday, WHO Europe reported 939,000 new COVID cases.

Watch: How England will leave lockdown