WHO: Covid in Europe running rampant

Rolling out the vaccine could be flexible on the gap between first and second doses

Europe is at a tipping point in the course of the pandemic, the WHO said, warning that the coronavirus is spreading very fast across the continent and the arrival of a new variant has created an “alarming situation”, news wires reported.

According to Hans Kluge, the WHO’s Europe director, while the arrival of vaccines offered “new tools” to fight the virus, almost half the 53 countries in the region were reporting a seven-day incidence rate of more than 150 new cases per 100,000 people, while a quarter had recorded a more than 10% surge in cases over the past week.

Kluge added that countries rolling out the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine could be flexible on the gap between first and second doses, saying a balance should be struck between making the most of limited supplies and protecting as many people as possible. Some countries are seeking to counter low vaccine supplies by extending the gap between first and second doses to up to 12 weeks, and by considering lower volume doses of some shots.

“It is important such a decision represents a safe compromise between the limited global production capacity at the moment, and the imperative for governments to protect as many people as possible while reducing the burden of any subsequent wave on health systems,” Kluge said. Any signs of stabilisation or even decreased incidence in some countries “need to be taken with some caution” because the impact of the holiday period, with its family gatherings and relaxed physical distancing, was not yet known, he said.

More than 230 million people in the region were living in countries under full national lockdowns, with more countries set to announce new measures in the coming week as the more contagious British variant raises increasing alarm. The mutation had been detected in 22 European countries, Kluge said, adding that while it seemed to produce no significant change in the disease itself – meaning it was “not more nor less dangerous” – its higher transmissibility was cause for concern.

“It is our assessment it may, over time, replace other lineages, as seen in the UK and increasingly Denmark,” he said. Without increased control to slow its spread, there would be an increased impact on already struggling health systems. “This is an alarming situation,” he said. “For a short period of time, we need to do more than we have done and to intensify the public health and social measures to be certain we can flatten the steep vertical line in some countries.”

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