COVID-19-related deaths in Europe could reach 2.2M by March 2022: WHO

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People walk on a shopping street in Brussels, Belgium, May 19, 2021. [Photo/Xinhua]

"Cumulative reported (COVID-19) deaths are projected to reach over 2.2 million by spring next year, based on current trends," the World Health Organization's (WHO) Regional Office for Europe said in a press release on Wednesday.

The projection comes as the region remains in the grip of the coronavirus pandemic, with the number of reported deaths increasing to close to 4,200 per day, up from 2,100 per day at the end of September. The cumulative number of COVID-19-related deaths has already "passed the 1.5 million mark" for the region's 53 countries.

"Today, COVID-19 is the number one cause of death across Europe and central Asia," according to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, which carries out modeling for WHO Europe.

The WHO's predictions for hospitals in the region are likewise dire. "We expect that there will be high or extreme stress on hospital beds in 25 countries, and high or extreme stress in intensive care units (ICUs) in 49 out of 53 countries between now and 1 March 2022."

According to the press release, the current wave of infections is the result of three main factors. The European region is "Delta dominant" (reference to the highly transmissible Delta variant of COVID-19) with no country reporting more than one percent of any other variant; the recent decision by "many countries" in the region to relax the restrictions; and the large number of people who are still not vaccinated or whose vaccine-induced protection has decreased.

Hans Kluge, the WHO's regional director for Europe, has called on people in the region to remain vigilant and get vaccinated "because all of us ... can take decisive action to stabilize the pandemic."

"As we approach the end of 2021, let's do everything we can by getting vaccinated and taking personal protective measures to avoid the last resort of lockdowns and school closures," he said.

Kluge also urged people to take the "vaccine plus approach", which means "getting the standard doses of vaccine, taking a booster if offered, as well as incorporating preventive measures into our normal routines."

"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."

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