WHO warns Europe of Covid-19 ‘resurgence’ and urges families to wear face masks at Christmas

The World Health Organization in Europe Wednesday urged families to wear face masks during this year's Christmas family gatherings, as it warned of a "further resurgence" of Covid-19 in early 2021.

WHO warns Europe of Covid-19 'resurgence' and urges families to wear face masks at Christmas
Pedestrians wearing protective face masks check out the window in a store in Paris. Photo: AFP

The UN  agency said people should not underestimate “the importance of your decisions” and encouraged extra precaution for holiday gatherings, even within the family. 

If possible, the WHO said celebrations should be held outdoors and “participants should wear masks and maintain physical distancing.”

For indoor festivities, the WHO said limiting the number of guests and ensuring good ventilation were key to reducing the risk of infection.

“It may feel awkward to wear masks and practise physical distancing when around friends and family, but doing so contributes significantly to ensuring that everyone remains safe and healthy,” the health agency said in a statement.

The plea came as the agency noted that “Covid-19 transmission across the European region remains widespread and intense,” even though some “fragile progress” had been made.

“There is a high risk of further resurgence in the first weeks and months of 2021, and we will need to work together if we are to succeed in preventing it,” WHO Europe said.

The WHO's European Region comprises 53 countries and includes Russia and several countries in Central Asia, a region that has registered more than 22 million cases of the new coronavirus and close to 500,000 deaths.

In the last seven days, nearly 1.7 million new cases have been recorded, as well as more than 34,500 deaths.

As a second wave of the novel coronavirus is sweeping over the continent, many countries have once again introduced tough measures to curb the spread.

On Wednesday, several new measures were imposed, including the closure of non-essential shops in Germany and pubs and restaurants in Britain.

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World No Tobacco Day: Is France really a smokers’ paradise?

Stereotyped as the 'chimney of Europe' - is France still a smokers' paradise? On World No Tobacco Day, we take a look at the stats on lighting up.

World No Tobacco Day: Is France really a smokers' paradise?

More than three in 10 people in France aged between 18 and 75 admit to smoking ‘occasionally’ and a quarter smoke daily, government health body Santé Publique France said in a recent report.

France was home to more than 12 million daily smokers last year puffing their way through an average of 12 cigarettes every day, the report – published for World No Tobacco Day – revealed.

Smoking was linked to 75,000 avoidable deaths in France in 2015, or 13 percent of deaths that year.

According to the report, 59.3 percent said they planned to quit in the next six months, and 30.3 percent have tried to stop smoking in the past 12 months.

France comes in 19th on the list of countries with the most smokers, according to the World Health Organisation. The island of Nauru, in Micronesia, has the highest smoking rate, with 48.5 percent of the population lighting up. Burma and Kiribati, an Oceanian archipelago, are second and third with, respectively, 44.1 percent and 40.6 percent of the population smoking.

Meanwhile in Europe, Eurostat has revealed that 19.7 percent of the EU population smokes daily. In 2019, 5.9 percent smoked 20 or more cigarettes on a daily basis, and 12.6 percent smoked fewer than 20.

Its figures showed that 22.2 percent of French people aged 15 and over smoked daily – higher than the European average, but six percentage points lower than the ‘smokiest’ EU country – Bulgaria.

Longstanding EU candidate country Turkey, which is included in Eurostat’s study, was second on the list with 27.3 percent of the over-15 population smoking, ahead of Greece on 27.2 percent.

The countries with the fewest smokers are Sweden (9.3 percent), Iceland (11.2 percent), Finland (12.5 percent), Norway (12.9 percent) and Luxembourg (13.5 percent).

The number of smokers in France has remained steady since 2020, Santé Publique France’s report added, while those who vape is also static at 5.5 percent of the population.

Minister of Health François Braun announced a new national programme to fight against tobacco, which will be launched this year as part of a wider target of achieving a first “tobacco-free generation” by 2032.

This will include schemes “to better prevent the onset of smoking and to support smokers towards quitting, with particular attention to target populations, in particular young people, as well as to the reduction of social inequalities in health linked to tobacco”.