The World Health Organization (WHO) is “very concerned” about the spread of Covid-19 in Europe, as the continent faces a new wave of infections.
In conversation with the BBC, the organization’s regional director, Dr. Hans Kluge, warned that 500,000 more deaths would be registered by next March without urgent action being taken.
Dr. Kluge indicated that applying measures such as the use of masks could be of immediate preventive help.
The warning comes when several countries report record infection rates and impose partial or total confinement orders.
Kluge noted that factors such as the winter season, the insufficient application of vaccines and the predominance of the most transmissible delta variant they were behind the increase in contagion.
He called for increased vaccination and the implementation of basic public health measures and new medical treatments to help combat the rise of the pandemic.
“Covid-19 is once again the leading cause of death in our region,” he told the BBC, adding that “we know what we have to do” to combat the disease.
The doctor explained that mandatory vaccination measures should be seen as a ‘last resort’ but that it would be very “punctual” to have a “legal and social debate” on the subject.
“Before that there are other ways such as the covid pass,” he said, noting that this “is not a restriction of freedom, but a tool to maintain our individual freedom.”
On Friday, Austria became the first European country to announce that covid-19 vaccination would become a legal requirement. The new rules go into effect in February.
That announcement and that of a national lockdown were made in response to record numbers of cases and low levels of vaccination.
Many other countries in Europe are also imposing new measures as cases rise.
Countries like the Czech Republic and Slovakia also announced new restrictions on people who are not vaccinated in the face of the unprecedented rise in infection rates across the continent.
On Friday night, violent riots were recorded in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, due to the new measures taken against covid-19. Hundreds of protesters gathered to air their strong discontent with the government’s plans for more restrictions and a ban on fireworks on New Year’s Eve.
For his part, the German Minister of Health, Jens Spahn, he described the situation in his country as a “national emergency” and refused to rule out another national lockdown.
The UK recorded 44,242 new coronavirus cases on Friday.
The British government has consistently repeated that it has no plans for another lockdown, but said it would introduce new anti-covid measures in England to protect the national health service, NHS – known as Plan B– which include compulsory covid passports for some closed places, compulsory masks in closed places and a recommendation to work from home.