The shocking figure that shows the severity of Europe’s third COVID wave, according to the WHO

NICOSIA, Feb. 5, 2021 -- A medical worker wearing protective shield prepares the swab sample of COVID-19 rapid test in Nicosia, Cyprus, Feb. 5, 2021. (Photo by George Christophorou/Xinhua via Getty) (Xinhua/George Christophorou via Getty Images)
A medical worker preparing a coronavirus test in Nicosia, Cyprus, which has been one of the worst-hit countries in Europe during the third wave. (George Christophorou/Xinhua via Getty)

The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned the equivalent of 160 people a minute are currently testing positive for coronavirus in Europe.

Dr Hans Kluge, the regional director of WHO Europe, set out stark figures as he referred to the ongoing third wave of infections on the continent.

Speaking at a press briefing on Thursday, Dr Kluge said: “The situation in our region is serious.”

More than one million people have now died from the virus in Europe, with Dr Kluge pointing out 1.6 million new cases are being reported every week.

'Serious situation': Dr Hans Kluge at Thursday's briefing. (WHO Regional Office for Europe/YouTube)
'Serious situation': Dr Hans Kluge at Thursday's briefing. (WHO Regional Office for Europe/YouTube)

This, he said, is the equivalent of 9,500 infections every hour or 160 every minute.

Dr Kluge added it is only among the over-80s that transmission rates are falling, possibly due to higher vaccine uptake in this age group.

He added COVID hospital admissions across the continent remain high, pointing out France, one of the worst-hit countries in the third wave, has its highest numbers since the beginning of the pandemic a year ago.

Dr Kluge said there are early signs transmission is slowing across several countries – “but let me be clear, early signs of decline are not equal to low rates of transmission”.

According to Oxford University's Our World in Data website, seven of the 10 countries with the highest seven-day infection rates per one million people are European, as this chart demonstrates...

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

The latest data, and Dr Kluge's gloomy outlook on Thursday, raise further questions about easyJet chief executive Johan Lundgren's claim that he expects “almost all” major European countries to be on the UK government’s “green list" when overseas leisure travel is permitted to resume.

He had told reporters on Wednesday: “If the government continues with the approach on the testing regime that they have said, I would expect almost all major European countries, that by the time it comes to travel reopening, that most countries in Europe should be in that category.”

Watch: UK government consulting on mandatory COVID vaccines for staff in older adult care homes

Last week, the government announced plans to reopen international travel from 17 May at the earliest, with ministers set to introduce a green list of countries that will remove the need for quarantine upon return to the UK, as long as COVID-19 tests are taken before departure and before returning.

Earlier this month, England’s chief medical officer Prof Chris Whitty warned the UK is going to have to take a cautious approach to COVID for up to two years.

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Of international travel, he said: “You don't worry about any country that's got less [virus and variants] than you have, but you do worry about any country that's got more than you have."

The UK currently has one of the lowest seven-day infection rates in Europe, at 24 per one million, according to Our World in Data.

Watch: How England is leaving lockdown