UPDATE: European countries ‘must act urgently’ amid worsening Covid outlook

The EU health agency on Wednesday appealed to member states to "urgently" introduce measures to counter surging Covid-19 cases, a day after the WHO Europe warned that 700,000 more may die on the continent this winter.

Medical personnel works at the intensive care unit with Covid-19 patients in a hospital in Freising
Medical personnel works at the intensive care unit with Covid-19 patients in a hospital in Freising near Munich, southern Germany, on November 16, 2021, amid the ongoing coronavirus Covid-19 pandemic. Photo by Christof STACHE / AFP

With more than 2.5 million cases and almost 30,000 deaths reported in the past week, Europe is by far the region currently worst hit by the virus, according to AFP’s tally.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) on Wednesday said its modelling predicted a grim outcome unless measures were taken “urgently”.

“The potential burden of disease in the EU/EEA from the Delta variant will be very high in December and January unless public health measures are applied now in combination with continued efforts to increase vaccine uptake in the total population,” it said in a statement.

Under 70 percent of the overall population in the EU and the EuropeanEconomic Area (Norway, Liechtenstein and Iceland) have been fully vaccinated.

“This leaves a large vaccination gap that cannot be bridged rapidly and gives ample room for the virus to spread,” the ECDC said.

“We need to urgently focus on closing this immunity gap, offer booster doses to all adults, and reintroduce non-pharmaceutical measures,” ECDC director Andrea Ammon said.

‘700,000’ deaths likely in coming months

Some 700,000 could die in the coming months, the WHO said on Tuesday, as cases creep up across Europe, prompting some countries to reimpose tough restrictions.

The WHO expects “high or extreme stress in intensive care units (ICUs) in 49 out of 53 countries between now and March 1, 2022”.

“Cumulative reported deaths are projected to reach over 2.2 million by spring next year,” it added, up from the current 1.5 million.

Covid-19 is the leading cause of death across Europe and Central Asia, the WHO reported, citing figures from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.

READ ALSO: From lockdowns to bans on unvaccinated – How Europe is tackling new Covid wave

The rise in Europe was being driven by a combination of the highly-contagious Delta variant, insufficient vaccination coverage and the easing of measures such as mask wearing and physical distancing, it said.

“In recent months many countries have indicated to their populations that COVID-19 no longer represents an emergency threat and have eased measures such as mask wearing and physical distancing in crowded or confined spaces. Now, the weather has turned colder, and people are gathering indoors,” WHO Europe said.

According to WHO data, Covid-related deaths increased last week to nearly 4,200 a day, doubling from 2,100 deaths a day at the end of September.

‘Vaccine plus’ approach

The WHO also said evidence was growing that vaccine-induced protection against infection and mild disease was declining but credited the Covid health passes brought in by many countries as “a collective tool to enable societies and people to continue with regular activities.”

“The Covid-19 situation across Europe and Central Asia is very serious. We face a challenging winter ahead,” regional director for WHO Europe, Hans Kluge, said in a statement.

He called for a “vaccine plus” approach, consisting of vaccinations, social distancing, the use of face masks and hand washing.

“In order to live with this virus and continue our daily lives, we need to take a “vaccine plus” approach,” Kluge said.

“This means getting the standard doses of vaccine, taking a booster if offered, as well as incorporating preventive measures into our normal routines.

“Taken together, wearing a mask, washing hands, ventilating indoor spaces, keeping physical distance, and sneezing into your elbow are simple, effective ways of gaining control over the virus and keeping societies going.

“All of us have the opportunity and responsibility to help avert unnecessary tragedy and loss of life, and limit further disruption to society and businesses over this winter season,” said Kluge, WHO Regional Director for Europe. 

The WHO said face masks reduce Covid incidence by 53 percent according to a recent study, and “over 160,000 deaths could be prevented (by March 1st) if universal mask coverage of 95 percent was achieved”.

It also added that over one billion doses have been given in the WHO European Region, with 53.5% of people having completed their vaccine dose series.  

However, this figure hides wide differences between countries, as seen in the chart below.

Member comments

  1. It is really weired that the WHO thinks that pharmaceutical products are the solution instead of living a healthy live.
    I guess it would be much more helpful to recommend breathing fresh air, regular exercising and eating healthy food instead of sugar. But of course, this would generate less revenue for many big companies.

  2. “In recent months many countries have indicated to their populations that COVID-19 no longer represents an emergency threat and have eased measures such as mask wearing and physical distancing in crowded or confined spaces.” If Mask is so efficient, why Sweden is in the lower place of the graphic of cases?

  3. What the “experts” should say is: “We don’t know!” No one knows! This virus obviously is acting much differently than anything that we’ve seen in the past. Keep wearing masks and avoid unnecessary contact with people. Have meetings outdoors as much as possible. If in the winter, online. There really seems to be no other choice, every-time we lower our guard, the virus makes a comeback!

    1. According to what you said that ‘experts’ don’t know, why wear mask and avoid contact with people indicated by ‘experts’ if they don’t know anything? Experts, go to hell all of you, what a shameful group of useless people that knows nothing after two years and has the ability to mandate others…
      And if you think there is no other choice, then follow your indications forever wearing masks everywhere and don’t contacting anybody but don’t make others follow your nonsense arguments.

      1. Experts know all of the things that is possible to know. Masks work,, contact reduction works.
        What they don’t know is the future and how much the virus might mutate – they can try to predict it, but it’s not magic and the future is never certain.

  4. “Covid-19 is the leading cause of death across Europe and Central Asia, the WHO reported, citing figures from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.”

    Where does such misinformation come from? How could the WHO possibly claim such a thing, when the data points to a completely different picture?

    1. This is a widely known things reported by all of countries that experienced COVID waves / lockdowns. Just because you don’t like it, doesn’t mean it’s misinformation.

  5. That is exactly what we need – misinformation, chaos and overall stress. I love when WHO sends recommendations without providing detailed data. So many people die? What are the age cathegories? Any present diseases? Lifestyle? How much stress due to social limitations invoked during entire 2020? Nothing to show? How about focusing on finding the reason the pandemic started, which country paid for the project, get some details? Oh wait, no, it means dwelving into politics! WHO and politics do not get together, right?
    Where is research focused not only on vaccines? And how can you call a vaccine “a vaccine” when it boosts your immunity for a couple of months? I eat vitamine C which also boosts my immunity. Should we use vaccination? Why not. Can I see side effects? They are unknown? Oh how sweet. Should we force people to get vaccination? If we call our country “democratic” so probably not, just provide with info about pros and cons of vaccines, show tips about healthy lifestyle, let people socialize, but leave people be and decide for themselves! This is madness!

    1. WHO provides detailed information on their website and to governments.
      Finding the origin of the pandemic won’t do anything to end the pandemic.
      Research also goes into medicines against COVID.
      No immunity (natural or from vaccines) lasts forever.
      Vitamin C doesn’t boost immunity.
      Side effects of COVID vaccines are one of the best researched ones in the history of humanity.
      We already force people to vaccinate against a multitude of things in childhood and for a good reason.
      No lifestyle protects against respiratory diseases unless that lifestyle is living alone in a cave.

  6. tgvdeparis, not true, please deal in facts, not what you read on social media . This was more disinformation by social media, with claiming children were being removed from communities and being held down to have forced to vaccinations. The Traditional Owners have expressed concern over this misinformation. The following comments are from the Traditional Owners in the areas where the allegations have been made.

    “People are very hurt by the untrue comments being made in the media and social media about their situation. People on social media saying that our people are being mistreated need to realise their comments are hurting the very people they claim to care about.” Wurli-Wurlinjang Health Service.

    “It’s not happening here. I don’t see any military around this community. This is the first time I heard that when I happened to be watching Tiktok this morning. There’s no army trucks driving around or removing people or forcing people to get the vaccine.” Kunwinjku man Andy Garnarrandj, a local council chairperson in Gunbalanya.

    “NT Labor Senator Malarndirri McCarthy, a Yanyuwa woman from Borroloola whose family members are among the Territory’s infected, called for a stop to “disappointing” negative messaging.”
    “I’ve not heard of anything other than people being assisted in the right way. There is no segregating of people here in a way that hasn’t been talked about with all those people involved.”
    Ms McCarthy said the spread of unconfirmed information is creating division in a situation that is “traumatic enough” for families who know that COVID is in their communities.
    “They need support in the right way in working together in bringing people together, not dividing them and terrorising them with messages that are just simply untrue,” she said.

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Austria in shock over doctor’s suicide following anti-vax abuse

Austrians expressed shock and anger this week over the suicide of doctor who had been the target of a torrent of abuse and threats from anti-vaccination protesters.

Austria in shock over doctor's suicide following anti-vax abuse

The bells of Vienna’s St. Stephen’s Cathedral rang out in memory of Lisa-Maria Kellermayr on Monday, and hundreds of people held a candle vigil outside, after the 36-year-old doctor was found dead at her practice on July 29.

She had long been the target of death threats because of her criticism of the widespread anti-lockdown protests of 2021.

An autopsy later confirmed that Kellermayr had taken her own life.

Austria has found itself deeply polarised over coronavirus restrictions and in particular a government policy –subsequently dropped — of making vaccination against the coronavirus compulsory.

Kellermayr — whose practice was in the region of Upper Austria where immunisation rates are particularly low — had frequently complained of the menace.

“For more than seven months, we have been receiving… death threats from those opposed to coronavirus measures and vaccinations,” she wrote at the time, sharing a message from one internet user who said they would pose as a patient in order to attack her and her staff.

She described how she had “invested more than 100,000 euros” ($102,000) in measures to ensure her patients’ safety and was on the brink of bankruptcy.

Then, at the end of June, Kellermayr announced on her professional website that she would not be seeing patients until further notice.

Daniel Landau, who organised a memorial vigil for her in Vienna, said that Kellermayr had become a virtual recluse for several weeks. “She didn’t dare to leave” her office, Landau told AFP.

Fanning the aggression

On Saturday, the head of Austria’s doctors’ association, Johannes Steinhart, said that while aggressive behaviour towards medical staff was not new, it had been “fired up and noticeably aggravated” by the debate over Covid-19 and vaccines.

The police, who had previously suggested Kellermayr was exploiting the situation for attention, insist they did everything to protect her. The local prosecutor’s office also rejected suggestions it could have done more.

“As soon as we received the police report (identifying one of the suspects), we sent it over to the relevant authorities in Germany,” spokesman Christoph Weber said.

On Friday, prosecutors in the neighbouring German state of Bavaria said a 59-year-old suspect was being investigated by a specialist hate speech unit.

At the beginning of the week, Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen visited the small town of Seewalchen where Kellermayr lived to lay flowers in her memory.

After news of her death broke, he had appealed to Austrians to “put an end to intimidation and fear”.

‘They’re gagging us’

But on some Telegram groups, the hateful messages continue.

“Some people are celebrating her death; others believe the vaccine killed her,” said Ingrid Brodnig, a journalist and author who investigates online disinformation.

“Stricts laws exist” already against online hate, but not enough is done to implement them, Brodnig said.

One government minister has floated the idea of a separate prosecutor’s office to target such cases. Doctors and researchers have also been targeted elsewhere.

French infectious disease specialist, Karine Lacombe, described how she had been vilified for her work as part of a collective of doctors combatting coronavirus-related disinformation.

She, too, complained that the response from the authorities in the face of threats was not robust enough, and has scaled down her public appearances this year.

“You end up thinking that the risk isn’t worth it,” she told AFP. “In that sense (the aggressors) have won, they are gagging us,” she said.