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Why the WHO is warning of an ‘autumn Covid surge’ across Europe

UN agency warns vaccination coverage ‘far from sufficient’ to protect region from Delta variant

The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that there is a high risk of a deadly autumn resurgence of Covid-19 in Europe this autumn, despite the continent’s vaccine campaign recovering after a stuttering start.

Despite the rate of vaccination increasing rapidly in recent months, the United Nations health body has warned that the region is “by no means out of danger” in the battle against the pandemic because vaccination rates are not yet sufficiently high, The Irish Times reports.

The WHO said that although 30% of people in Europe have received at least one dose and 17% are fully vaccinated, coverage was still “far from sufficient to protect the region from a resurgence” and “many among vulnerable populations above the age of 60 remain unprotected”, says The Guardian.

Despite a fall in infections, hospitalisations and deaths across the UK and EU, the WHO’s Europe regional director Hans Kluge has urged people and governments to continue to exercise “caution and common sense” over the months ahead.

“We’ve been here before. Last summer, cases gradually rose in younger age groups, then moved into older age groups, leading to a devastating… loss of life in the autumn and winter of 2020. Let’s not make that mistake again”, Kluge said.

Announcing a new WHO information campaign called Summer Sense, Kluge continued that he wanted to encourage Europeans to “enjoy the summer”, adding: “If you want to travel, think about the need. If you decide to, do it safely.”

Governments must also “make use of a better epidemiological situation to further increase testing, tracing, hospital capacity” and “learn the lessons from last year”, he warned.

Nations across Europe have begun to lift restrictions as the more transmissible Delta variant continues to spread around the world. France has eased its evening curfew and changed rules in cafes, restaurants, shops and gyms, while Italy and Belgium have reopened bars and restaurants for outdoor service and schools have returned to normal in Germany.

Katy Smallwood, a senior emergency officer at the WHO, told The Guardian that the UN agency is concerned about “very significant evidence of significantly higher transmissibility” from the Delta variant, adding: “We’ve seen initial basis for increased risk of hospitalisation, and we’ve seen some evidence of immune escape, especially after only one dose of vaccine.”

The UK government will announce on Monday whether the final stage of the roadmap out of lockdown will go ahead as planned on 21 June.

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