EUROPE – The World Health Organization has warned that another 236,000 people could die from COVID-19 in Europe by December 1, sounding the alarm over rising infections and stagnating vaccine rates on the continent.
The warning comes as the world passed the grim milestone of 4.5 million deaths from COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic, according to a recent AFP tally.
Infections rates are ticking up globally again, as the highly transmissible Delta variant takes hold, especially among the unvaccinated, preying on populations where anti-virus measures have been relaxed.
In South Africa, scientists are monitoring a new coronavirus variant with an unusually high mutation rate.
The National Institute for Communicable Diseases said Monday that C.1.2. can mutate almost twice as fast as other global variants
Its frequency remains relatively low, however, and it has so far been found in under three percent of genomes sequenced since it was first picked up in May — although this has increased from 0.2 to two percent last month.
But it has been detected in all South Africa’s provinces, as well as in China, Britain, New Zealand and Mauritius.
In another sign of renewed concern, the European Union on Monday recommended that member states reimpose travel restrictions on US tourists over rising covid infections in the country.
“Israel, Kosovo, Lebanon, Montenegro, the Republic of North Macedonia and the United States of America were removed from the list,” said a statement from the European Council, which represents the bloc’s 27 governments.
Case numbers in the United States have surged as the more infectious Delta variant has spread and large swathes of the population have refused to get vaccinated.
The head of WHO Europe said Monday that infections and deaths were on the rise again in Europe, particularly in poorer nations in the Balkans, the Caucasus and Central Asia.
“Last week, there was an 11 percent increase in the number of deaths in the region, one reliable projection is expecting 236,000 deaths in Europe, by December 1,” WHO Europe director Hans Kluge said.
Europe has already registered around 1.3 million COVID-19 deaths to date.
Of the WHO Europe’s 53 member states, 33 have registered an incidence rate greater than 10 percent in the past two weeks, Kluge said, mostly in poorer countries.
High transmission rates across the continent were “deeply worrying, particularly in the light of low vaccination uptake in priority populations in a number of countries.”
Kluge said the Delta variant was partly to blame, along with an “exaggerated easing” of restrictions and measures and a surge in summer travel.
While around half of people in the WHO’s Europe region are fully vaccinated, uptake in the region has slowed.
“In the past six weeks, it has fallen by 14 percent influenced, influenced by a lack of access to vaccines in some countries and a lack of vaccine acceptance in others.”
Only six percent of people in lower and lower-middle-income countries in Europe are fully vaccinated, and some countries have only managed to vaccinate one in 10 health professionals.
“The stagnation in vaccine uptake in our region is of serious concern,” Kluge said, urging countries to increase production, share doses and improve access.