Europe has recently seen an “exponential increase” in daily coronavirus cases and fatalities but the situation is different from the one faced in mid-March, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Thursday.
Dr. Hans Kluge, WHO regional director for Europe, said in a briefing that “the evolving epidemiological situation in Europe raises great concern.”
He said that COVID-19 is now the fifth leading cause of death in the region, with more than 1,000 fatalities being reported now per day.
Europe registered the highest weekly incidence of virus cases since the beginning of the pandemic, with confirmed cases surging from 6 million to 7 million in just 10 days.
“The pandemic won’t reverse its course on its own. A proportional and targeted response is the way forward with measures or tightening up in many countries in Europe. And this is good because they are absolutely necessary. They are appropriate,” said Kluge.
Despite the present conditions, he said Europe was not facing the mid-March scenario when countries were forced to shut down their economies.
“Although we record two to three times more cases per day, compared to the April peak, we still observe five times fewer deaths, and the doubling time in hospital admissions is still two to three times longer,” the WHO official explained.
Besides handwashing and other hygiene measures, Kluge said simple steps such as wearing face masks are essential.
“The systematic and generalized wearing of masks at a 95% rate from now, instead of the less than 60% today, together with the strict control of social gathering, whether in public or private spaces, may save up to 281,000 lives by Feb. 1 across over 53 member states in the region,” he said.
He stressed that the virus has not changed, nor become more or less dangerous.
One of the reasons for the increase in cases rates is more testing, particularly among the younger population.
“And there are reasons for lower mortality, which lie in the higher share of transmission among less vulnerable young people, itself a factor of mobility and unprotected contact among the younger age cohorts,” said Kluge.
“In March, the lockdown was a shutdown, where every corner of our society and economy had been halted due to a society caught off guard. Today, lockdown means a very different thing.”
It means a stepwise escalation of proportionate, targeted, and time-limited measures in which everyone is engaged both as individuals and as a society together, to minimize collateral damage on health over the economy and society, he added.
“In brief, these measures are meant to keep us all ahead of the curve and to flatten its course. They are there to save lives from COVID-19 without risking lives, due to other diseases, and due to economic despair,” said the WHO official.