The World Health Organization (WHO) has made a fresh warning about the severity of the current outbreak of COVID cases across Europe.
With several European countries – including France, Germany and the UK – recently imposing fresh lockdowns, the continent is once again attempting to get a grip on the pandemic.
With an eye on a return to some kind of normality, the UK government is mulling over plans to temporarily relax restrictions for several days over Christmas so that families are able see each other.
During a press conference on Thursday morning, WHO regional director for Europe Hans Kluge outlined three statistics that showed the severity of the current outbreak for the whole of Europe:
A third of countries have reported 14-day incidence rates of more than 700 per 100,000 people
COVID-19 deaths have increased by 18% in the past two weeks
Currently one person dies from COVID-19 every 17 seconds in the European region
Kluge said that some health systems are being overwhelmed on the continent, where more than 29,000 deaths were recorded in the past week alone.
He said: "Europe is once again the epicentre of the pandemic, together with the United States.
“There is light at the end of the tunnel but it will be a six tough months.”
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While addressing the worrying figures, Kluge maintained that more lockdowns were avoidable – if mask-wearing was made near-universal.
He added: ”Lockdowns are avoidable, I stand by my position that lockdowns are a last resort measure.
“Mask use is by no means a panacea, and needs to be done in combination with other measures.
“However, if mask use reached 95%, lockdowns would not be needed.”
He said: “I am encouraging a tier system based on levels of seriousness in community transmission, with a set of proportionate measures that could be considered under each one of them.
“This can better situate government’s actions along a gradient of severity that can go both ways without ever stalling.”
Kluge warned about the negative impact of “easing too quickly”, and said they should be lifted safely and gradually.
Primary schools should be kept open, Kluge said, adding that children and adolescents are not driving the spread of coronavirus and school closures are "not effective".
Despite encouraging news in the last week about vaccines, they are "not a silver bullet because we know the supply will be limited particularly in the beginning," he said.
Pfizer and BioNTech recently announced that their vaccine candidate has shown 95% efficacy, with a 94% effectiveness in those aged 65 and over.
Forty million doses of that vaccine have been bought by the UK, with rollout potentially starting in early December if the jab is given the green light by regulators.
Earlier in the week US biotech firm Moderna released data suggesting its vaccine is almost almost 95% effective.
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