Following three straight weeks of rising infections, the COVID-19 caseload in Central Europe, the Balkans, and Baltic states is among the highest globally, the Europe chief of the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Thursday.

“The current situation is most acute in parts of the region that were successful in controlling the disease in the first six months of 2020,” Hans Kluge said in an online news conference.

“It is in Central Europe, the Balkans, and the Baltic states where case incidence, hospitalizations, and deaths are now among the highest in the world.”

He said case incidence has continued to increase and is moving eastwards, with more than 1.2 million new infections reported across Europe last week.

Virus deaths in Europe surpassed 900,000 last week, according to Kluge.
He said more than 20,000 people across the pan-European region of 53 countries are losing their lives to COVID-19 every week.

“The number of people dying from COVID-19 in Europe is higher now than it was this time last year, reflecting the widespread hold of this virus has,” said Kluge.

Some 48 out of 53 European countries and territories have reported the B.1.1.7 variant, first detected in the UK, gradually becoming predominant in the region.

“And yet, in the context of this faster-spreading variant, several countries – including but not limited to Denmark, Ireland, Portugal, Spain, and the UK – have rapidly reduced transmission with public health and social measures to levels that can, and must, be kept low,” said Kluge.

‘Continue use of AstraZeneca vaccine’

In some countries’ decision to temporarily suspend the use of the AstraZeneca jab, the WHO official urged people to continue taking the vaccine as the “benefits far outweigh its risks.”

“In vaccination campaigns, it is routine to signal potential adverse events. This does not necessarily mean that the events are linked to the vaccination,” he said, adding that venous thromboembolism – or blood clots in veins – is the “third most common cardiovascular disease in the world.”

“As of now, we do not know whether some or all of the conditions have been caused by the vaccine or by other coincidental factors,” said Kluge.
“At this point, however, the benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine far outweigh its risks – and its use should continue to save lives.”

“The WHO regional chief said Europe is yet to see the widespread impact and benefits of vaccines, but it will soon.

As of Thursday, 46 countries in the region had administered more than 107 million jabs, and 3% of the population in 45 countries had completed a two-dose vaccination series.

Data from 23 countries indicates that 51% of health workers have received at least one dose.

According to the official, 27 countries are currently in a partial or full nationwide lockdown, 21 are gradually easing restrictive measures.

​​​​​​​”Let there be no doubt about it; vaccination by itself – particularly given the varied uptake in countries – does not replace public health and social measures,” said Kluge.

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