COVID-19 cases have more than doubled in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Russia, and Ukraine over the past two weeks, said the World Health Organization’s European region chief on Tuesday.

Hans Kluge said that as anticipated, the omicron wave of the pandemic is moving east in the region that includes 53 countries and extends from Greenland in the northwest to the Russian Far East.

Across the entire European region, WHO has recorded more than 165 million COVID-19 cases to date, and 1.8 million people have lost their lives, 25,000 in the past week.

“This remains a deadly disease,” said Kluge.

“Health systems are being put under increasing strain, not least because cases among health care workers are escalating – rising from 30,000 at the end of last year, to 50,000 a month later.”

Kluge said that as health needs increase, the number of staff available to deliver care has fallen, and the risk of transmission in healthcare settings has risen, further compounding the problem.

The WHO official said vaccination remains the best defense against severe disease and death for all current COVID-19 virus variants circulating.

“However, too many people at greater risk remain unprotected: less than 40% of those aged over 60 in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Kyrgyzstan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan have completed their COVID-19 vaccine series,” said Kluge.

“Bulgaria, Georgia, and North Macedonia are also among those countries where under 40% of health care workers have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine,” the WHO official said.

Kluge called on governments, health authorities, and relevant partners to closely examine the local reasons influencing lower vaccine demand and acceptance and devise tailored interventions to increase vaccination rates urgently.

He said that faced with “the omicron tidal wave,” and with delta still circulating widely in the east, the worrying situation now is not the moment to lift measures known to work in reducing the spread of COVID-19.

“These include avoiding closed, confined, or crowded locations, wearing masks when with other people indoors, improving ventilation where possible, using rapid tests to identify cases early, and making sure that health systems are well prepared,” said Kluge.

Copyright 2022 Anadolu Agency. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.