COVID-19 lockdowns in Europe "avoidable" with strict observance of public health measures: WHO

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COPENHAGEN, Nov. 19 (Xinhua) -- The World Health Organization's (WHO) Regional Director for Europe Hans Kluge has described lockdowns as "avoidable" if the usage rate of face mask reaches 95 percent and the other health measures are abided by in an evaluation of measures being used to curb the spread of COVID-19 in the region.

"Mask use is by no means a panacea and needs to be done in combination with other measures. However, if mask use reached 95 percent, lockdowns would not be needed. But at mask use rates of 60 percent or lower, it is hard to avoid lockdowns," he told a virtual press conference speaking from Copenhagen on Thursday.

However, Kluge was reluctant to promote further lockdowns as a primary tool to combat the pandemic mainly due to the "significant collateral damage associated with lockdowns."

"I stand by my position that lockdowns are a last-resort measure," said the WHO official.

As for the recent progress in vaccine development, Kluge said it offered "a new horizon."

"While vaccines will not stop COVID-19 entirely and do not answer all our questions, they do represent a great hope in the war against this virus," he noted. "However, this promise will never be realized unless we ensure all countries have access to the vaccine market, that it is delivered equitably."

According to Kluge, over 80 percent of countries in the region have seen more than 100 infections per 100,000 inhabitants in the past 14 days, "with nearly a third of these reporting infection rates above 700 per 100,000 population."

"As a result, we are seeing increasing signals related to overwhelmed health systems," he said.

Meanwhile, deaths due to COVID-19 in Europe have also increased by 18 percent in the past two weeks. Last week, the region registered over 29,000 new COVID-19 deaths.

Kluge also addressed the pertinent issue of COVID-19 fatigue that has been considered as a contributory factor to the second wave of infections.

"Ultimately, these pandemic times are affecting all our lives but we cannot give up when we have so much to gain. I urge you to hold on to hope and make every effort to reduce your personal risk and the risk to the people and the community around you for the health and well-being of all." Enditem

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