LONDON (AP) – The World Health Organization said on Tuesday that coronavirus cases have tripled across Europe in the last six weeks, accounting for almost half of all infections worldwide. Hospital admissions rates have also doubled, although intensive care admissions have remained low.
In a statement on Tuesday, WHO Europe Director-General Dr. Hans Kluge described COVID-19 as “a nasty and potentially deadly disease” that people should not underestimate. He said that super-infectious relatives of the omicron variant were driving new waves of disease across the continent, and that repeated infections could potentially lead to long-term COVID.
The WHO said that the 53 countries in the European region, which extends to Central Asia, reported almost 3 million new coronavirus infections last week and that the virus killed around 3,000 people every week. Globally, COVID-19 cases have increased in the last five weeks, although countries have stepped down from testing.
“With increasing cases, we also see an increase in hospital admissions, which will only increase further in the autumn and winter months,” said Kluge. “This forecast poses a major challenge for healthcare professionals in country after country, which has already been under enormous pressure in relation to incessant crises since 2020.”
Earlier this week, editors of two British medical journals said that the country’s national health service had never before had so many parts of the system so close to collapse.
Kamran Abbasi, of the BMJ, and Alastair McLellan of the Health Service Journal wrote in a joint editorial that the British government failed to address persistent problems exacerbated by COVID, including ambulances queuing outside hospitals overloaded to receive new patients.
They criticized the government’s insistence that vaccines have broken the link between infections and hospitalizations. Although vaccines dramatically reduce the chances of serious illness and death, they have not significantly affected transmission.
“The government must stop burning gas in public and be honest about the threat the pandemic still poses to them and the national health service,” the editors wrote.
The WHO announced its autumn strategy for COVID-19 on Tuesday. The UN Health Bureau called for a new vaccine boost dose for everyone aged 5 and up with a weak immune system, promoting the use of masks indoors and on public transport, and better ventilation in schools, offices and elsewhere.
Kluge said that countries in the southern hemisphere are currently experiencing a very active flu season which, combined with COVID, is burdening health systems.
“We will probably see a similar scenario in the northern hemisphere,” Kluge said, warning that increased pressure could lead to business, travel and school chaos.
He urged people to make their own decisions, even in countries where the authorities have largely abandoned coronavirus restrictions.
“We are all aware of the tools we have to stay safe, assess our level of risk and take the necessary steps to protect others if we become infected,” said Kluge. “Just because a mask is not imposed does not mean it is forbidden.”
Follow the AP’s coverage of the pandemic at https://apnews.com/hub/pandemics