Europe’s Covid death toll could cross 2 million by next spring, says the WHO

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Over 2.2 million people are projected to die from Covid-19 in Europe by the spring of 2022 based on current trends, the WHO said this week. The WHO identifies the European Region to include the countries of the European Union, the United Kingdom, Iceland, Norway, Switzerland, Turkey, Israel, Russia, Ukraine, and several countries in the Balkans and Central Asia.

Almost4,200 deaths were being reported daily across the region last week, double of the 2,100 daily deaths on average at the end of September. Cumulative reported deaths from the virus passed the 1.5 million mark for the 53 countries in this region last week. Covid-19 is now the number one cause of death across Europe and Central Asia, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, which carries out modelling for the WHO Regional Office for Europe, has said.

25 of the 53 countries are expected to see high or extreme stress on hospital beds between now and March 1, 2022, the WHO estimates. High or extreme stress is expected on intensive care units in 49 out of 53 countries during this period.

Three factors are driving the increasing transmission, the WHO has said.

*The European Region is “Delta dominant”, the highly transmissible strain of the novel coronavirus. No country in the region is reporting more than 1% of any other variant of the SARS-CoV-2.

*In recent months, many countries have signalled to their populations that Covid-19 no longer represents an emergency threat. They have eased measures such as mask-wearing and physical distancing in crowded or confined spaces. As the weather has turned colder, people are gathering indoors.

*A large number of people are still not vaccinated — and among many of those who are, there is evidence that vaccine-induced protection against infection and mild disease is reducing. This has left many people vulnerable, and booster doses are needed to protect the most vulnerable, including the immunocompromised, as a priority, the WHO said.

*Over 1 billion doses of vaccine have been given in the WHO European Region, and 53.5% of people are fully vaccinated. However, there are wide differences between countries — and the range in completed vaccine dose series spans from under 10% to over 80% of the total population, the WHO said.

*Only 48% of people in the region currently wear a mask when leaving home, according to self-reported data. If from today universal mask coverage of 95% was achieved, it is estimated that over 160,000 deaths could be prevented by 1 March 2022, the WHO said. It called on people to remain vigilant as gatherings move indoors during the winter.

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