Daily coronavirus deaths in Europe could reach four or five times their April peak within months without effective countermeasures, the World Health Organization has said, as nine more countries reported record numbers of new infections.
Dr Hans Kluge, the WHO’s regional director for Europe, said on Thursday that Europe had recorded its highest weekly number of new Covid-19 cases as the virus again spread rapidly across the continent.
“The evolving epidemiological situation in Europe raises great concern: daily cases are up, hospital admissions are up and Covid is now the fifth leading cause of deaths” in the region, killing more than 1,000 people a day, he said.
But Kluge said there was cause for optimism because the situation was not the same as during the first wave of the pandemic, and tighter controls introduced by many European countries this week could save hundreds of thousands of lives.
“We are recording two to three times more cases per day compared with April, but five times fewer deaths, and hospital admissions are taking two to three times longer to double,” he said. “The pandemic today is not the pandemic yesterday – not only in terms of its transmission dynamic, but in the ways we are now equipped to face it.”
Models suggested that if governments loosened restrictions for any length of time, daily Covid deaths could reach five times their previous highs by January next year, Kluge said. But the models also showed that simple measures could dramatically slow the trend.
“The systematic and generalised wearing of masks, at a 95% rate rather than the 60% rate today, together with strict controls on social gatherings in public or private spaces, could save up to 281,000 lives by 1 February,” he said.
Tighter restrictions announced by several European countries – from the Netherlands to Spain and France and the Czech Republic – were “good because absolutely necessary”, Kluge said.