Multiple countries in Europe are experiencing upticks in COVID-19 infections as the continent enters its second pandemic winter. According to Reuters, the region saw a 6 percent increase in new cases last week, with nearly 1.8 million new cases, compared to the week before; the number of deaths rose 12 percent in the same period. On Friday, days after German health officials said the country was entering a fourth wave of the pandemic, Germany recorded more than 37,000 daily COVID cases — a record high for the second day running. Cases in Russia, Ukraine, and Greece are also soaring. The trend follows a recent surge in the U.K. as well.
The surge in infections has prompted a call to action from the World Health Organization, which warned that Europe overall is at a “critical point” in the pandemic. The group said the region could see another 500,000 COVID deaths by February. “We are, once again, at the epicenter,” said Hans Kluge, the agency’s head in Europe, adding that 43 of the 53 countries he oversees could also see high or extreme stress on hospital beds. “With a widespread resurgence of the virus, I am asking every health authority to carefully reconsider easing or lifting measures at this moment.”
The WHO linked the resurgence to uneven vaccine coverage and the premature relaxation of public safety measures. That tracks: Eastern Europe has among the lowest vaccination rates in the region. Ukraine, for instance, is lagging the world in vaccination with only 26 percent of the country’s 41 million people having at least one dose of a vaccine.
The rise in cases has sparked debate on whether to reintroduce curbs to tame the virus, especially as it spreads faster in the winter months when people gather indoors. Last week, for instance, Germany expanded its booster vaccine program to all adults and the Netherlands reimposed the use of face masks. Vienna, the capital of Austria, also announced it will ban people who are not vaccinated against the disease “from cafés, restaurants, hairdressers, and any events with more than 25 people starting from the end of next week,” according to CNN.
Health experts in the U.S. are closely watching activity in Europe, as it can often be a bellwether for what’s next in the pandemic. The rise in cases also comes as the U.S. is preparing to open its borders to fully vaccinated foreign visitors.