Act Now in Europe, or Risk Stricter COVID Measures Later - WHO Official

WHO European director Hans Kluge gives status on the Danish handling of coronavirus during a press breefing in Eigtveds Pakhus, Copenhagen, Denmark March 27, 2020. Ida Guldbaek Arentsen/ Ritzau Scanpix/via REUTERS/File Photo

With an Omicron offshoot spearheading a burgeoning COVID-19 wave in Europe, countries need to accelerate vaccine uptake and bring back measures such as mask-wearing to avoid stricter measures as autumn and winter approach, a senior World Health Organization (WHO) official warned on Tuesday.

In an interview with Reuters, WHO Regional Director for Europe Hans Kluge urged countries to take action now to avoid overwhelming health systems as the spread of the Omicron subvariant, BA.5, gathers steam.

Close to three million new COVID-19 cases were reported in the European region last week, which accounted for nearly half of all new cases globally. Hospitalization rates have doubled over the same period, and close to 3,000 people die of the disease every week, Kluge said in an accompanying statement.

"There is a rise in cases ... amidst a society which is functioning almost as before," he said, underscoring the need for so-called pandemic stabilizers such as a second booster dose ahead of the expected variant-specific vaccines in the autumn, as well as the promotion of mask-wearing and ventilation.

These stabilizers must be implemented to avoid much stricter measures, he cautioned. "I don't think society is ready for ordered lockdowns."

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