A WHO official said Europe must act now or risk tougher coronavirus measures later.

A senior World Health Organization official said European countries should speed up vaccine uptake and re-wear masks to cope with the surge in cases of the emerging coronavirus (Covid-19) caused by a branch of Omicron and avoid stricter measures later in the year. Tuesday.

In an interview with Reuters, WHO Regional Director for Europe Hans Kluge urged countries to take action now to avoid overcrowding health systems in the fall and winter as Omicron, BA.5, continues to spread rapidly.

Nearly three million new cases of COVID-19 were reported in Europe last week, accounting for nearly half of all new cases globally. Hospitalization rates have doubled over the same period, and nearly 3,000 people die from the disease each week, Kluge said in an accompanying statement.

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“There is a rise in cases … amid a society that is operating almost as well as before,” he said, stressing the need for “epidemic stabilizers” such as a second booster dose before the specific vaccines expected in the fall. As well as promoting mask-wearing and better ventilation.

He said these stabilizing factors should be implemented to avoid stricter measures, adding: “I don’t think the community is ready for orderly shutdowns.”

When the pandemic began in 2020, governments boosted spending to help mitigate the impact of lockdowns on their struggling economies and health systems, but they have accumulated significant debt and are reluctant to repeat those policies.

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“People sometimes ask, Has the virus come back again?” Kluge said. “It’s never gone. It’s still there. It’s spreading. It’s transforming. And unfortunately, it still takes a lot of lives.”

After two-and-a-half years of the pandemic, lockdowns and related disruptions, countries now have to deal with rising inflation and food insecurity caused in part by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Kluge said, but governments still need to invest more in healthcare.

“If governments don’t do that, well, society can’t be better prepared for the future,” he added.

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(Covering by Natalie Grover in London). Editing by Jacqueline Wong and Gareth Jones

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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