The light is getting brighter with vaccines against COVID-19 becoming available, the World Health Organization chief said Friday, but expressed concern there was a 60% global rise in deaths in the last six weeks and a doubling in Europe.

“The light at the end of the tunnel is getting brighter, but we have to face some of the challenges to make the light really bright,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus at a twice-weekly WHO webinar from Geneva on COVID-19.

“In the past six weeks, the number of weekly deaths has increased by around 60%,” said Tedros.

“Most cases and deaths are in Europe and the Americas,” he said, while another WHO official noted that the rise in Europe in that period was 100%.

Tedros said that this week, vaccines against COVID-19 started to roll out in Britain, and more countries are expected to follow.

“To have safe and effective vaccines against a virus that was completely unknown to us only a year ago is an astounding scientific achievement,” he said.

The WHO chief said that the current festive season is a time to relax and to celebrate.

“But we must not relax our guard. Celebration can very quickly turn to mourning if we fail to take the right precautions,” said Tedros.

He urged people to consider their plans carefully as they prepare to celebrate over the coming weeks.

“If you live in an area with high transmission, please take every precaution to keep yourself and others safe,” said Tedros.

He noted that COVID-19 had triggered a deep global economic crisis that could have a long-lasting impact on health financing and on children’s education.

The COVID-19 crisis provided an opportunity for a reset in countries with weak health financing systems.

“Prolonged school closures are presenting an unprecedented challenge to children’s education, health, and well-being.”

“We know that although children are less at risk of severe disease and death from COVID-19 than older adults, millions of children have suffered from the pandemic in other ways, including disruption to their education,” said Tedros.

He cited data collected by UNESCO, showing that classrooms for nearly 1 in 5 schoolchildren globally – or 320 million – were closed as of Dec. 1, an increase of almost 90 million in just one month.

In some places, children have been out of school for 9 months or more.

“Prolonged school closures are presenting an unprecedented challenge to children’s education, health, and well-being.”

Today WHO released a new checklist to support schools in reopening and preparing for resurgences of COVID-19 and similar public health crises.

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