WHO Europe chief calls for targeted measures to fight COVID-19 resurgence

Europe should “gradually escalate” targeted measures to curb the spread of COVID-19, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Regional Director for Europe, Dr. Hans Kluge, said at a virtual press conference here on Thursday.

He presented troubling figures on the evolving epidemiological situation in Europe. According to Kluge, COVID-19 is now the “fifth leading cause of deaths and the bar of 1,000 deaths per day has now been reached.”

Kluge confirmed that the number of cases in Europe had surpassed seven million, with almost 700,000 new infections reported in the past week alone — the highest weekly incidence of COVID-19 cases since the beginning of the pandemic.

“The number of positive cases rose from six to seven million in just 10 days and over the weekend new records were reached with daily totals surpassing 120,000 cases for the first time.”

NOT OPTIMISTIC

Citing projections provided by epidemiological models, Kluge voiced concern that a prolonged relaxation of personal protective measures or of coronavirus safety policies “could propel — by January 2021 — daily mortality at levels 4 to 5 times higher than what we recorded in April.”

“These projections do nothing but confirm what we have always said: the pandemic won’t reverse its course on its own. We will.”

The same models, however, showed that simple measures — such as the systematic and generalized wearing of masks (at a rate of 95 percent from now, instead of the less than 60 percent today) together with the strict control of social gathering, whether in public or private spaces — may save up to 281,000 lives by Feb. 1 across WHO Europe’s 53 member states, he said.

According to WHO, face masks should be used as part of a comprehensive strategy of measures to suppress COVID-19 transmission and save lives.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreaks in early 2020, wearing masks in public has been widely accepted in Asian countries like China, South Korea, and Japan to limit the spread of COVID-19.

NECESSARY TIGHTENING IN EUROPE

Despite a huge increase in infections, Kluge was adamant that Europe was not stepping backward in the way it dealt with the coronavirus.

“Although we record 2 to 3 times more cases per day compared to the April peak, we still observe 5 times fewer deaths. The doubling time in hospital admissions is still 2 to 3 times longer.”

The WHO official reiterated that “the virus has not changed, it has not become more or less dangerous.”

“Measures are tightening up in many countries in Europe, and this is good because they are absolutely necessary,” Kluge said.

“They are appropriate and necessary responses to what the data is telling us: transmission and sources of contamination occur in homes and indoor public places, and within communities poorly complying with self-protection measures.”

While supportive of the tightening of restrictions in Europe, Kluge reiterated that the WHO’s stance on what a “lockdown” meant today was no longer the same as what it was six months ago.

“In March, lockdown meant a shutdown, where every corner of our society and economy was halted. Today, lockdown means a very different thing. It means a step-wise escalation of proportionate, targeted and time-limited measures,” Kluge said.