Europeans need to “get back to basics” and use quarantining to battle the rise in infection rates that has emerged in half the region over the last week, according to the World Health Organization.
Hans Kluge, the WHO’s director for Europe, said the latest data showed a 9% rise in new cases of Covid-19, in what would be a worrying development for overstrained health services across the continent.
While noting that vaccination programmes were already reducing transmission and hospitalisation, it would “take time” for the strategy to come to full fruition, he said.
Vaccinations have begun in 45 countries in the European region, according to the WHO. But the level of coverage remains low even among the 27 member states of the EU, where just 7% of the population has received a jab.
Kluge said: “Last week new cases of Covid-19 in Europe rose 9% to just above a million. This brought a promising six-week decline in new cases to an end, with more than half of our region seeing increasing numbers of new infections.
“We are seeing a resurgence in central and eastern Europe. New cases are also on the rise in several western European countries, where rates were already high.
“Continued strain on our hospitals and health workers is being met with acts of medical solidarity between European neighbours. Nonetheless, over a year into the pandemic our health systems should not be in this situation. We need to get back to the basics.”
Kluge said governments needed to invest more in the sequencing that could identify variants of coronavirus, and improve their testing, tracing and quarantine systems.
He also called on governments to do what they could to avoid “pandemic fatigue” leading to a breakdown in social distancing.
The coronavirus variant initially identified in the UK had been reported in 43 of 53 countries in the European region within Kluge’s remit, while the South African variant had been found in 26. The variant identified in Brazil and Japan had been discovered in 15 European countries.
Kluge said: “We need to suppress the spread of the virus everywhere, using what we know works. Vaccination is already saving lives, with hospitalisation and deaths in most at-risk groups declining significantly, but vaccinating every population group will take time.”
On Thursday Slovakia transferred its first coronavirus patients abroad, to Poland, as the country’s hospitals became full with patients amid a resurgent pandemic.
Slovakia has reported the world’s highest number of Covid-related deaths per capita over the past week, as the government’s restrictions have failed so far to limit the spread of the coronavirus. Poland and Germany have offered to take 10 patients each from Slovakia.