A boy reacts next to the body of his father, who died from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), at a crematorium in New Delhi, India April 24, 2021.
Adnan Abidi | Reuters
LONDON — The threat for Europe posed by the coronavirus “remains present,” the World Health Organization said Thursday, despite a recent decline in new cases, hospitalizations and deaths in the region.
“It is 462 days since the first Covid-19 cases were reported. Based on numbers of confirmed cases, 5.5% of the entire European population have now had Covid-19, while 7% have completed a full vaccination series,” WHO’s regional director for Europe, Dr. Hans Kluge, said in a press conference on Thursday.
“But even as new cases, hospitalizations and deaths decline, the threat remains present,” Kluge warned.
The virus still carries the potential to inflict devastating effects, he added, noting that close to half of all reported infections in Europe since the pandemic began have actually come during the first four months of this year.
Signaling some hope for the region, however, he added that “for the first time in two months, new cases fell significantly last week. Yet, infection rates across the region remain extremely high.”
The comments come amid a mixed picture of recovery across the globe. While India is struggling with a devastating surge in cases and lack of medical supplies, other parts of the world are starting to reopen their economies.
In Europe, the U.K. is steadily lifting its lockdown and its vaccination rollout continues at pace. To date, almost 34 million adults in the country have received a first dose of a coronavirus vaccine, and over 13 million people have had two doses, government data shows.
In mainland Europe, over 133 million doses of Covid vaccines have been administered so far across 30 counties in the European Economic Area (the EU plus Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway), according to data from the European Centre for Disease Control and Prevention.
The speed of vaccination programs differs wildly throughout the EU, with some countries forging ahead quicker than others.
WHO’s Kluge urged governments to not allow vaccination programs, public engagement with vaccines or surveillance of the virus, falter.
“Where vaccination rates in high-risk groups are highest, admissions to hospitals are decreasing and death rates are falling. Vaccines are saving lives, and they will change the course of this pandemic and eventually help end it,” he said.
“We also need to be conscious of the fact that vaccines alone, will not ‘end the pandemic.’ Without informing and engaging communities, they remain exposed to the virus. Without surveillance, we can’t identify new variants. And without contact tracing, governments may need to reimpose restrictive measures.”