UPDATE: European countries ‘must act urgently’ amid worsening Covid outlook

The EU health agency on Wednesday appealed to member states to "urgently" introduce measures to counter surging Covid-19 cases, a day after the WHO Europe warned that 700,000 more may die on the continent this winter.

Medical personnel works at the intensive care unit with Covid-19 patients in a hospital in Freising
Medical personnel works at the intensive care unit with Covid-19 patients in a hospital in Freising near Munich, southern Germany, on November 16, 2021, amid the ongoing coronavirus Covid-19 pandemic. Photo by Christof STACHE / AFP

With more than 2.5 million cases and almost 30,000 deaths reported in the past week, Europe is by far the region currently worst hit by the virus, according to AFP’s tally.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) on Wednesday said its modelling predicted a grim outcome unless measures were taken “urgently”.

“The potential burden of disease in the EU/EEA from the Delta variant will be very high in December and January unless public health measures are applied now in combination with continued efforts to increase vaccine uptake in the total population,” it said in a statement.

Under 70 percent of the overall population in the EU and the EuropeanEconomic Area (Norway, Liechtenstein and Iceland) have been fully vaccinated.

“This leaves a large vaccination gap that cannot be bridged rapidly and gives ample room for the virus to spread,” the ECDC said.

“We need to urgently focus on closing this immunity gap, offer booster doses to all adults, and reintroduce non-pharmaceutical measures,” ECDC director Andrea Ammon said.

‘700,000’ deaths likely in coming months

Some 700,000 could die in the coming months, the WHO said on Tuesday, as cases creep up across Europe, prompting some countries to reimpose tough restrictions.

The WHO expects “high or extreme stress in intensive care units (ICUs) in 49 out of 53 countries between now and March 1, 2022”.

“Cumulative reported deaths are projected to reach over 2.2 million by spring next year,” it added, up from the current 1.5 million.

Covid-19 is the leading cause of death across Europe and Central Asia, the WHO reported, citing figures from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.

READ ALSO: From lockdowns to bans on unvaccinated – How Europe is tackling new Covid wave

The rise in Europe was being driven by a combination of the highly-contagious Delta variant, insufficient vaccination coverage and the easing of measures such as mask wearing and physical distancing, it said.

“In recent months many countries have indicated to their populations that COVID-19 no longer represents an emergency threat and have eased measures such as mask wearing and physical distancing in crowded or confined spaces. Now, the weather has turned colder, and people are gathering indoors,” WHO Europe said.

According to WHO data, Covid-related deaths increased last week to nearly 4,200 a day, doubling from 2,100 deaths a day at the end of September.

‘Vaccine plus’ approach

The WHO also said evidence was growing that vaccine-induced protection against infection and mild disease was declining but credited the Covid health passes brought in by many countries as “a collective tool to enable societies and people to continue with regular activities.”

“The Covid-19 situation across Europe and Central Asia is very serious. We face a challenging winter ahead,” regional director for WHO Europe, Hans Kluge, said in a statement.

He called for a “vaccine plus” approach, consisting of vaccinations, social distancing, the use of face masks and hand washing.

“In order to live with this virus and continue our daily lives, we need to take a “vaccine plus” approach,” Kluge said.

“This means getting the standard doses of vaccine, taking a booster if offered, as well as incorporating preventive measures into our normal routines.

“Taken together, wearing a mask, washing hands, ventilating indoor spaces, keeping physical distance, and sneezing into your elbow are simple, effective ways of gaining control over the virus and keeping societies going.

“All of us have the opportunity and responsibility to help avert unnecessary tragedy and loss of life, and limit further disruption to society and businesses over this winter season,” said Kluge, WHO Regional Director for Europe. 

The WHO said face masks reduce Covid incidence by 53 percent according to a recent study, and “over 160,000 deaths could be prevented (by March 1st) if universal mask coverage of 95 percent was achieved”.

It also added that over one billion doses have been given in the WHO European Region, with 53.5% of people having completed their vaccine dose series.  

However, this figure hides wide differences between countries, as seen in the chart below.

Member comments

  1. It is really weired that the WHO thinks that pharmaceutical products are the solution instead of living a healthy live.
    I guess it would be much more helpful to recommend breathing fresh air, regular exercising and eating healthy food instead of sugar. But of course, this would generate less revenue for many big companies.

  2. “In recent months many countries have indicated to their populations that COVID-19 no longer represents an emergency threat and have eased measures such as mask wearing and physical distancing in crowded or confined spaces.” If Mask is so efficient, why Sweden is in the lower place of the graphic of cases?

  3. What the “experts” should say is: “We don’t know!” No one knows! This virus obviously is acting much differently than anything that we’ve seen in the past. Keep wearing masks and avoid unnecessary contact with people. Have meetings outdoors as much as possible. If in the winter, online. There really seems to be no other choice, every-time we lower our guard, the virus makes a comeback!

    1. According to what you said that ‘experts’ don’t know, why wear mask and avoid contact with people indicated by ‘experts’ if they don’t know anything? Experts, go to hell all of you, what a shameful group of useless people that knows nothing after two years and has the ability to mandate others…
      And if you think there is no other choice, then follow your indications forever wearing masks everywhere and don’t contacting anybody but don’t make others follow your nonsense arguments.

      1. Experts know all of the things that is possible to know. Masks work,, contact reduction works.
        What they don’t know is the future and how much the virus might mutate – they can try to predict it, but it’s not magic and the future is never certain.

  4. “Covid-19 is the leading cause of death across Europe and Central Asia, the WHO reported, citing figures from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.”

    Where does such misinformation come from? How could the WHO possibly claim such a thing, when the data points to a completely different picture?

    1. This is a widely known things reported by all of countries that experienced COVID waves / lockdowns. Just because you don’t like it, doesn’t mean it’s misinformation.

  5. That is exactly what we need – misinformation, chaos and overall stress. I love when WHO sends recommendations without providing detailed data. So many people die? What are the age cathegories? Any present diseases? Lifestyle? How much stress due to social limitations invoked during entire 2020? Nothing to show? How about focusing on finding the reason the pandemic started, which country paid for the project, get some details? Oh wait, no, it means dwelving into politics! WHO and politics do not get together, right?
    Where is research focused not only on vaccines? And how can you call a vaccine “a vaccine” when it boosts your immunity for a couple of months? I eat vitamine C which also boosts my immunity. Should we use vaccination? Why not. Can I see side effects? They are unknown? Oh how sweet. Should we force people to get vaccination? If we call our country “democratic” so probably not, just provide with info about pros and cons of vaccines, show tips about healthy lifestyle, let people socialize, but leave people be and decide for themselves! This is madness!

    1. WHO provides detailed information on their website and to governments.
      Finding the origin of the pandemic won’t do anything to end the pandemic.
      Research also goes into medicines against COVID.
      No immunity (natural or from vaccines) lasts forever.
      Vitamin C doesn’t boost immunity.
      Side effects of COVID vaccines are one of the best researched ones in the history of humanity.
      We already force people to vaccinate against a multitude of things in childhood and for a good reason.
      No lifestyle protects against respiratory diseases unless that lifestyle is living alone in a cave.

  6. tgvdeparis, not true, please deal in facts, not what you read on social media . This was more disinformation by social media, with claiming children were being removed from communities and being held down to have forced to vaccinations. The Traditional Owners have expressed concern over this misinformation. The following comments are from the Traditional Owners in the areas where the allegations have been made.

    “People are very hurt by the untrue comments being made in the media and social media about their situation. People on social media saying that our people are being mistreated need to realise their comments are hurting the very people they claim to care about.” Wurli-Wurlinjang Health Service.

    “It’s not happening here. I don’t see any military around this community. This is the first time I heard that when I happened to be watching Tiktok this morning. There’s no army trucks driving around or removing people or forcing people to get the vaccine.” Kunwinjku man Andy Garnarrandj, a local council chairperson in Gunbalanya.

    “NT Labor Senator Malarndirri McCarthy, a Yanyuwa woman from Borroloola whose family members are among the Territory’s infected, called for a stop to “disappointing” negative messaging.”
    “I’ve not heard of anything other than people being assisted in the right way. There is no segregating of people here in a way that hasn’t been talked about with all those people involved.”
    Ms McCarthy said the spread of unconfirmed information is creating division in a situation that is “traumatic enough” for families who know that COVID is in their communities.
    “They need support in the right way in working together in bringing people together, not dividing them and terrorising them with messages that are just simply untrue,” she said.

  7. Masks and lockdowns help while they are in effect – what’s hard to understand here?
    Vaccines help for 6-18 months – what can’t you understand here?

    In order to avoid healthcare being strained during a wave of COVID, we would need 50-100 times more ICU beds and corresponding staff increases, corresponding increases in the number of hospitals, ventilators, etc, etc. No society on earth can afford this.

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France scraps compulsory self-isolation after positive Covid test

France's public health body has outlined how Covid-19 rules will change on February 1st, including an end to compulsory self-isolation after a positive test result.

France scraps compulsory self-isolation after positive Covid test

Starting on February 1st, Covid rules will relax in France as the country ends compulsory isolation for those who test positive for the virus.

However, those travelling from China to France will still be required to agree to a random screening upon arrival and to isolate in the case of a positive Covid-19 test result. Travellers aged 11 and over coming from China must also provide a negative test result (less tan 48 hours) prior to boarding and those aged six and over must agree to wear a mask on board flights. These regulations – which was set to last until January 31st – is set to remain in place until February 15th.

The French public health body (The Direction générale de la santé or DGS)  announced the change on Saturday in a decree published in the “Journal Officiel” outlining the various ways the body will loosen previous coronavirus restrictions.

READ MORE: What Covid rules and recommendations remain for visiting France?

Those who were in contact with someone who tested positive – ie a contact cases – will also no longer be required to take a test, though the public health body stressed that both testing after contact and isolating after receiving a positive test remain recommended.

Previously, even asymptomatic people who had been in contact with someone who tested positive for Covid-19 were required to test on the second day after being notified that they were a “contact-case”.

These changes will take effect on February 1st.

READ MORE: What changes in France in February 2023?

The DGS also said that website SI-DEP, which records test results, will remain in operation until June 30th, however starting in February it will only collect personal data with the express permission of the patient.

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Additionally, the French government announced that sick leave procedures for people with Covid-19 will return to normal on February 1st – this means that those who test positive for Covid-19 will have the three-day wait period before daily sick benefits are required to be paid, as is usually the case. Previously, people with Covid-19 could expect daily sick benefits to begin at the start of their sick leave period (arrêt maladie in French).  

READ MORE: How sick leave pay in France compares to other countries in Europe

Covid tests are still available on walk-in basis from most pharmacies are are free to people who are fully vaccinated and registered in the French health system. Unvaccinated people, or visitors to France, have to pay up to a maximum of €22 for an antigen test of €49 for a PCR test. 

If you recently tested positive for Covid-19 in France – or you suspect you may have contracted Covid-19 – you can find some information for how to proceed here.

In explaining the changes that will begin in February, the French public health body also noted a drop in Covid-19 infections in the past month. As of January 30th, approximately 3,800 people in France had tested positive in the previous 24 hours for the coronavirus – which represents a decrease from the averages of 20,000 new cases per day about one month ago.