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Monday, 29 November 2021 10.27 PM IST

Covid cases soar in Europe; there could be 500,000 COVID-related deaths in the continent by February, says WHO

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LONDON: Coronavirus infections are hitting record levels in many countries across Europe as winter takes hold, prompting a call for action from the World Health Organization which described the new wave as a "grave concern".

Soaring numbers of cases, especially in Eastern Europe, have prompted debate on whether to reintroduce curbs on movement before the Christmas holiday season and on how to persuade more people to get vaccinated. That conversation comes as some countries in Asia, with the notable exception of China, reopen their tourism sectors to the rest of the world.

"The current pace of transmission across the 53 countries of the European Region is of grave concern," regional WHO head Hans Kluge said, adding that the spread was exacerbated by the more transmissible Delta variant. The virus spreads faster in the winter months when people gather indoors.

Kluge warned earlier that if Europe followed its current trajectory, there could be 500,000 COVID-related deaths in the region by February. "We must change our tactics, from reacting to surges of COVID-19, to preventing them from happening in the first place," he said.

FRESH CURBS
The Hungarian government has urged people to take up vaccines and last week announced mandatory vaccinations at state institutions, also empowering private companies to make jabs mandatory for employees if they believe that is necessary. Romania - where hospitals cannot cope with a surge in COVID-19 patients - the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Poland have all tightened rules on mask-wearing and introduced measures to curb infections.

The Czech Republic has introduced a requirement for restaurant customers to show proof of vaccination or a test. It also has tough mask regulations and some children are again being tested in schools in areas where cases are higher. In Poland, mask-wearing is mandatory in enclosed public spaces while cinemas, theatres, and hotels have a 75% capacity limit. The Hungarian government has not replied to Reuter's questions on potential measures.

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