The World Health Organization’s Europe office said projections show its 53-country region could face another 700,000 deaths in the COVID-19 pandemic by next spring, topping two million in total.
WHO Europe, which is based in Copenhagen, also cited growing evidence of a decline in protection against infection and mild disease through vaccines, and said a “booster dose” should be given as a priority to the most vulnerable populations — including people with weakened immune systems — as well as people over 60 and health-care workers.
The United Nations health agency’s international headquarters in Geneva, however, has repeatedly called for a moratorium on the use of boosters through year-end so that doses can be made available for many developing countries that have faced a severe lack of the COVID-19 vaccines compared to richer nations.
WHO Europe called on people to get vaccinated and respect proper hygiene and practice social distancing to help stop the spread of the virus.
“Today, the COVID-19 situation across Europe and Central Asia is very serious. We face a challenging winter ahead, but we should not be without hope, because all of us — governments, health authorities, individuals — can take decisive action to stabilize the pandemic,” said Dr. Hans Henri P. Kluge, the regional director for WHO Europe, in a statement.
The European region, which stretches deep into central Asia, reported that deaths due to COVID-19 rose to nearly 4,200 per day last week — a doubling of levels recorded at the end of September. Cumulative deaths have now reached 1.5 million in the region.
The three factors driving the increase are the highly transmissible delta variant of the virus, an easing of restrictive measures like requirements for mask-wearing and physical distancing in places, and large swaths of the European population that remain unvaccinated, WHO Europe said.
What’s happening across Canada
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What’s happening around the world
As of Tuesday afternoon, more than 258 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to a case-tracking tool maintained by U.S.-based Johns Hopkins University. The reported global death toll stood at more than 5.1 million.
In Asia, a pandemic-spurred demand for flu vaccines in India has surged since a devastating second wave of COVID-19 brought the nation’s health-care system to its knees earlier this year.
Vaccinations against influenza are not very common in India due to a lack of awareness, access and steep prices, and they are also not part of the federal government’s universal immunization program that includes polio, tuberculosis and hepatitis B.
Still, more than 1,000 shots were administered at Manipal Hospital’s sites in the tech hub of Bengaluru in southern India between July and September, compared with about 3,000 for all of last year, according to the health-care provider.
“Initially, everyone thought if you got flu vaccines, COVID-19 won’t affect you severely,” said Dr. Ram Shankar Mishra, director of internal medicine at the Max Super Specialty Hospital, Saket, in the capital of New Delhi.
Mishra added that demand has increased, even as COVID-19 vaccinations gather pace.
In Europe, France’s prime minister is being singled out on social media and beyond as an example of what not to do in the pandemic after he tested positive for COVID-19.
Multiple videos circulated of a maskless Prime Minister Jean Castex vigorously shaking hands with elected officials in an enclosed space at a Paris mayoral congress on Nov. 16. Many people are pointing out that goes against France’s official stance that everyone should keep taking preventative measures, especially as infections surge.
They also noted that Castex, who tested positive Monday, had called the French Caribbean territory of Guadeloupe “irresponsible” in the enforcement of COVID-19 measures when he did not abide by the rules himself.
The prime minister’s office said the issue was being exploited for political ends and that he “tries to respect the rules as much as possible.”
Castex’s office says the 56-year-old prime minister tested positive after his 11-year-old daughter contracted the virus and he is self-isolating for 10 days. Castex was vaccinated in the spring, but his daughter is not vaccinated because vaccines are not approved in the EU for those under 12. Authorization is expected this week.
Gabriel Attal, the French government’s spokesperson, had leaped to Castex’s defence when the videos first began circulating. “We are all only human,” he said.
In the Americas, Mexico will analyze administering booster vaccine doses against COVID-19, especially for older people, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said Tuesday, softening his previous stance on the need for a third shot.
Less than two months ago, Lopez Obrador had rejected suggestions that Mexico should administer a third vaccine shot, saying experts deemed it to be unnecessary. But his government has gradually opened the door to giving more people shots, including teenagers.
“The booster vaccine will be analyzed in some cases, especially for older adults, but that still has to be decided by the doctors, the specialists,” he told a news conference.