Europe is likely to see a resurgence in coronavirus deaths in October and November, the WHO warned today.
Deaths have remained relatively stable even as cases have surged in many European countries over the summer, but the WHO’s Europe director Hans Kluge is expecting a rise in daily fatalities in the autumn.
‘It’s going to get tougher. In October, November, we are going to see more mortality,’ he said.
Kluge also warned that a vaccine breakthrough would not necessarily mean the end of the pandemic – predicting a ‘logistical nightmare’ if different jabs are needed for different groups of people.
Current infection rates in Europe according to the European Centre for Disease Control (ECDC), with Spain and France among the worst-affected countries in the recent rebound
WHO Europe’s 55 member states are holding an online meeting today and tomorrow to discuss their response to the coronavirus and agree an overall five-year strategy.
‘It’s a moment where countries don’t want to hear this bad news, and I understand,’ Kluge said in an interview with AFP as he predicted a rise in daily deaths.
He stressed that he wanted to send the ‘positive message’ that the pandemic ‘is going to finish, at one moment or another.’
However Kluge, based in Copenhagen, raised a warning finger to those who believe that the development of a vaccine will bring an end to the pandemic.
‘I hear the whole time: ‘the vaccine is going to be the end of the pandemic’. Of course not!,’ the Belgian said.
‘We don’t even know if the vaccine is going to help all population groups. We are getting some signs now that it will help for one group and not for the other,’ he said.
‘And then if we have to order different vaccines, what a logistical nightmare!
‘The end of the pandemic is the moment that we as a community are going to learn how to live with this pandemic. And it depends on us and that’s a very positive message,’
The number of cases in Europe has risen sharply in recent weeks, especially in Spain and France – leading to new travel restrictions months after borders re-opened.
French doctors have urged people to avoid private gatherings to contain the spread of the virus, while measures are being toughened in high-infection areas.
In Spain, measures are being imposed by 17 regional authorities – with gatherings of more than 10 banned for weeks in some places, but only recently in Madrid.
‘This rebound has a lot to do with the structure of Spain’s healthcare system,’ said Jose Molero, the secretary general of doctors’ union Csit.
Europe’s daily number of cases (shown on this chart) has reached record levels, according to WHO figures, although deaths have so far remained relatively stable
On Friday alone, more than 51,000 new cases were reported in the 55 countries of WHO Europe, which is more than the highest peak in April.
Sebastian Kurz, the chancellor of Austria which has so far kept cases and deaths low, warned that his country was facing ‘the beginning of the second wave’.
The Czech Republic has also faced a surge, with one epidemiologist saying over the weekend that cases could overwhelm hospitals if they continue at the current rate.
New restrictions are coming into force across England on Monday, with social gatherings limited to no more than six people.
Europe has now recorded nearly 4.8million cases in total, although its share of global cases has fallen sharply after huge outbreaks in India, Brazil and the United States.
Meanwhile, the number of daily deaths has remained at around the same level since early June with around 400-500 deaths per day, WHO data showed.
There was some good news in Britain where Oxford University and AstraZeneca were given the all-clear to resume their vaccine trial.
Researchers had ‘voluntarily paused’ the trial, seen as one of the most promising candidates in the vaccine race, after a UK volunteer developed an unexplained illness.
Even during the pause, AstraZeneca said it remained hopeful that the vaccine could still be available ‘by the end of this year, early next year’.