700,000 Europeans will die from Covid in March, World Health Organization warns
An additional 700,000 Europeans could die from Covid this winter, the World Health Organization warned today.
WHO officials suggested the continent’s death toll would rise from 1.5 million to 2.2 million by March amid a savage fourth wave.
This figure includes 53 countries in Europe, including EU member states, the UK, Kazakhstan and Russia, among others.
If this prediction is correct, it means that Europe will face a winter only slightly better than last year, despite vaccines now being widely available.
The WHO said the new wave of India’s ‘Delta’ variant, vaccine skepticism and relaxed Covid restrictions were behind the bleak forecast.
About 66 percent of people in the European Union are already getting a double shot and many countries are now introducing booster doses.
Increasing cases have also led to several countries slipping back into lockdowns and stricter restrictions to contain the spread of the virus.
It comes after an AstraZeneca boss suggested hospital admissions are increasing in Europe because it has been slow to roll out their jab to older age groups, unlike the UK.
But scientists say Europe’s new wave is likely due to a number of other reasons, including slower booster rollouts, longer summer lockdowns and shorter vaccine dosing intervals.
As a sign of a growing crisis, the Netherlands has today started moving Covid patients to Germany to ease the pressure on hospitals.
The above chart shows daily Covid cases per million people in different countries in Europe
And this chart shows the cumulative deaths per million people in selected European countries. It reveals that Belgium, Italy and Poland have all suffered a higher percentage of Covid deaths than the UK
WHO officials said the number of Covid deaths in Europe has already doubled to about 4,200 a day since September.
And that the virus was now the leading cause of death on the continent, citing a report from the US-based Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.
The Regional Director for Europe, Dr Hans Kluge, called on European countries to take a ‘vaccine plus’ approach and impose more restrictions, including face masks, social distancing and regular hand washing.
The Netherlands flies Covid patients to Germany
The Netherlands has started transporting Covid patients to Germany to relieve the pressure on hospitals.
Local health officials said this morning that a patient suffering from the virus was transported 150 miles by ambulance from Rotterdam to Bochum, in Rhine-Westphalia.
And a second one would be moved later today.
About 488 of the 1,050 intensive care beds are currently used by Covid patients.
Hospitals are already scaling back routine services for cancer patients and heart surgery.
And a third of the operating rooms are closed to make way for intensive care beds.
German hospitals have so far offered 20 beds to patients from the Netherlands, after treating dozens during previous waves of the pandemic.
He said: ‘As we approach the end of 2021, let’s do everything we can to get vaccinated and take personal protection measures, to avoid the last resort of lockdowns and school closures.
“We know from bitter experience that these have profound economic consequences and have profound negative impacts on mental health, fuel interpersonal violence and are harmful to the well-being and learning of children.”
According to Our World in Data, a research platform at the University of Oxford, 1.38 million deaths have been recorded in Europe so far.
Britain has the second highest number of deaths on the continent at 144,000, with the most recorded number in Russia at 256,000.
But when the population takes fatalities into account – which experts say is a fairer comparison – Britain drops to 13th place with a rate of 2,116 deaths per million people.
Both Belgium (2,283.9) and Italy (2,205.3) have more deaths from the virus per million people than the UK.
It comes after AstraZeneca chief executive Pascal Soriot said the decision by most major EU countries to restrict stings early in the year could explain why Britain’s neighbors are now facing higher infection rates.
Only 67 million doses have been dispensed across the continent, compared to 440 million Pfizer shots, although studies show the Oxford-made injection offers longer-lasting protection.
Mr Soriot told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘If you look at the UK there was a big spike in infections but not that many hospitalizations compared to Europe.
‘In the UK this vaccine was used to vaccinate older people, while in Europe it was initially thought that the vaccine would not work in older people.’
French President Emmanuel Macron was accused of politicizing the UK vaccine’s release in January when he dismissed it as ‘quasi-effective’ for over-65s and claimed the UK rushed approval, in what some described as Brexit -bitterness.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, 66, also added to initial doubts about the vaccine, stating in February that she would not get the shot, as her country’s vaccine regulator at the time infamously recommended that people over 65 should not get the shot. But in the end Merkel got the AstraZeneca in April.
The EU’s skepticism about the jab has centered around the fact that only two people over 65 contracted Covid in AZ’s global surveys, out of 660 participants in that age group.
Although the vaccine was eventually re-approved for the elderly in France, Germany and other major EU economies, reputational damage fueled vaccine hesitancy and led many elderly Europeans to demand that they be vaccinated with Pfizer’s shot. Some, such as Denmark and Norway, have permanently stopped using AZ.