Europe Once Again the Epicenter of Pandemic, WHO Says as New Wave of Infections Takes Hold

Europe faces a real threat of a COVID-19 resurgence as it is listed as the worldwide epicenter of the pandemic, the World Health Organization (WHO) said, according to the Associated Press reported.

Dr. Hans Kluge told reporters from the WHO Europe headquarters in Copenhagen, Denmark, that the number of cases in the region is nearing record levels. The pace at which COVID-19 is being transmitted is of "grave concern" to the organization.

"We are at another critical point of pandemic resurgence," Kluge said. "Europe is back at the epicenter of the pandemic, where we were one year ago."

He attributes loose prevention measures and low vaccination rates as the primary reasons for increasing infection rates. Hospitalization rates attributed to COVID-19 have more than doubled since last week. Kluge said the area could see 500,00 additional pandemic deaths by February.

About 47 percent of European citizens are fully vaccinated. Out of the 53 countries in the European/Central Asian region, only eight have fully vaccinated at least 70 percent of their population.

"We must change our tactics, from reacting to surges of COVID-19 to preventing them from happening in the first place," Dr. Kluge said during the conference.

COVID-19 cases have risen in Europe for the fifth consecutive week, with 192 new cases per 100,000 people.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

COVID-19 in Croatia
Only eight countries in Europe have at least 70 percent of their populations fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Above, people in Zagreb, Croatia, wear masks while riding a bus. Photo by Denis Lovrovic/AFP via Getty Images

WHO Europe says the region tallied nearly 1.8 million new weekly cases, an increase of about 6 percent from the previous week, and 24,000 COVID-19 weekly deaths—a 12 percent gain.

Sweden's chief epidemiologist, Anders Tegnell, said Thursday that "we are clearly in another wave," and added that "the increased spread is entirely concentrated in Europe."

Several countries in Central and Eastern Europe have seen daily case numbers shoot up in recent weeks.

At an online briefing Thursday by the Amsterdam-based European Medicines Agency, experts urged people to get vaccinated.

"The epidemiological situation in Europe is very concerning now as we head into the winter with increases in infection rates, hospitalization and we can also see the increase in fatalities," said Fergus Sweeney, the EMA's head of clinical studies and manufacturing task force.

He stressed that "it's very important that everybody gets vaccinated or completes their dose of vaccination if they've already had a first dose but not a second dose. It's really important that we're all vaccinated because we are not all protected until everyone is protected in that respect."

Masked Students in Germany
The WHO has declared Europe as the current epicenter for the COVID-19 pandemic. Above, students attend a lecture in Germany wearing face masks. Rolf Vennenbernd/dpa via AP