Europe at 'tipping point' in alarming virus variant surge, says WHO

Hans Kluge gave a stark warning over the current situation in Europe. (Photo: Agencies)

Europe is at a "tipping point" over the spread of COVID-19 and Europe needs to do more to tackle the alarming situation, said the World Health Organization.

European countries are rolling out vaccines and implementing lockdown measures as they face a surge in coronavirus cases.

The WHO's regional director for Europe, Hans Kluge called the current situation "a tipping-point in the course of the pandemic," and said the new variant needs to be brought under control.

He said: "This is an alarming situation, which means that for a short period of time we need to do more than we have done and to intensify the public health and social measures to be certain we can flatten the steep vertical line in some countries."

It is normal for viruses to change over time and the variant is not believed to cause more severe symptoms but its "increased transmissibility" is the cause for concern.

"Without increased control to slow its spread, there will be an increased impact on already stressed and pressurized health facilities," said Kluge.

The measures proposed by Kluge were those "with which we are all familiar," listing the adherence to generalized mask wearing, limiting social gatherings, maintaining physical distance and hand washing as prudent but in need of being intensified.

These measures coupled with adequate testing, quarantine and isolation and vaccination, "will work if we all get involved," Kluge added.

The WHO's European region comprises 53 countries, including Russia and several countries in Central Asia, with 22 of these having registered cases of the new variant.

He said the WHO European region recorded more than 26 million confirmed COVID-19 cases in 2020 and 580,000 confirmed deaths.

WHO Europe also estimates that excess mortality in 2020 was five times that of 2019 and three times that of 2018, with 313,000 excess deaths in the 27 countries (mostly EU members and the UK) that take part in the EuroMOMO monitoring program.