The World Health Organization’s regional director for Europe urged caution Thursday, as 36 of the region’s 53 countries begin to ease COVID-19 restrictions, saying the continent’s vaccination rate is insufficient to prevent a resurgence.
At a virtual briefing from his headquarters in Copenhagen, WHO Europe Director Hans Kluge acknowledged current pandemic numbers are headed in the right direction, with two consecutive months of decline in new cases, deaths, and hospitalizations.
But Kluge cautioned that the highly transmissible Delta variant strain of the virus that causes COVID-19 – originally identified in India – is “poised to take hold,” in the region, while many people above the age of 60 remain unvaccinated.
The WHO Europe director noted that cases were declining at this time last year, only to surge again.
“Over the course of last summer, cases gradually rose in younger age groups, then moved into older age groups, contributing to a devastating resurgence, lockdowns and loss of life, in the autumn and winter of 2020.”
The difference this year, of course is the availability of vaccines. Kluge said so far, 30 percent of the region has received at least one vaccine dose and 17 percent are fully vaccinated. He said while that’s good progress, it’s not enough to prevent a resurgence of the virus once people begin traveling and attending large public events such as sports or festivals.
He urged people to get vaccinated and to continue to use COVID-19 precautions, such as face masks, while enjoying the summer.
Kluge also expressed gratitude for U.S. President Joe Biden’s announcement that the U.S. will buy 500 million doses of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for global distribution through the WHO-administered vaccine cooperative COVAX.