Europe is set to face a new wave of Covid-19 unless it doubles down on efforts to control the virus, the World Health Organization warned Thursday, as it questioned the wisdom of easing various lockdowns across the region amid poor vaccination rates and a surge in cases driven by the highly infectious delta variant.
Dr. Hans Kluge, the WHO’s European director, told reporters the three conditions needed for a deadly new wave—low vaccination levels, increased social mixing and new coronavirus variants—were now in place.
The number of new cases rose 10% in the last week, Kluge said, ending the region’s 10-week decline.
Despite valiant efforts, Kluge said not nearly enough people across the region have yet been vaccinated against the disease to safeguard against new outbreaks, with 63% still waiting for their first shot.
Europe will be “Delta dominant” by August, Kluge predicted, referring to the infectious variant that now accounts for almost all cases in the U.K. and is rapidly spreading across the U.S.
The variant is already contributing towards increased hospitalizations and deaths in the region, he said.
Kluge described the situation in Europe as “rapidly evolving” and worsening, for “despite tremendous efforts by member states, millions remain unvaccinated…There will be a new wave in the WHO European region unless we remain disciplined.”
What To Watch For
As football fans across the bloc travel to attend Euro 2020 events, health officials have voiced concerns over whether they are fueling new outbreaks of Covid-19. The WHO has squarely noted the tournament’s role in driving the spike in infections. Nearly 2,000 people from Scotland alone have been identified as attending one or more events around Europe while infectious. The WHO launched a dedicated tool for the tournament on Thursday to provide updates on the situation in host countries.
The fast-spreading delta variant is threatening to thwart attempts to reopen in countries that had otherwise started to reopen. A surge in cases driven by the variant forced the U.K. to delay its anticipated reopening, while it forced Portugal’s Lisbon region and a string of Australian cities back into lockdown and prompted Israel to reintroduce mask mandates. Though the CDC has declined to change its mask guidelines in response to delta, the WHO urges even fully vaccinated people to keep wearing them.