More than 1 million people have now died from Covid-19 in Europe, the World Health Organization’s European regional director said Thursday, describing the region’s situation as “serious” as countries struggle to contain outbreaks fueled by coronavirus variants and immunization programs limp on amid supply shortages and safety concerns over some vaccines.
Dr. Hans Kluge, the WHO’s director for the European region—which covers the wider geographic area, including parts of Central Asia, and not just the political bloc—told reporters Thursday that the situation in Europe is “serious,” with around 1.6 million cases of Covid-19 being reported a week.
He said the area passed the grim milestone of 1 million Covid-19 confirmed deaths last week, and France is set to join Russia, Italy and the U.K. and exceed a death toll of 100,000 Thursday.
Kluge reiterated the WHO’s support for the AstraZeneca vaccine—which European Union chief Ursula von der Leyen shunned Wednesday in favor of pursuing “technologies that have proven their worth”—stressing that the risk of suffering blood clots is much higher in those with Covid-19 than those who receive the shot.
Kluge urged the region to be vigilant with speedy vaccination programs and maintaining public health measures like social distancing and local countries that have combined lockdowns with strong vaccination campaigns, such as the U.K., have seen a sharp reduction in cases.
3 million. According to Johns Hopkins University, this is the global death toll for Covid-19. The U.S. leads this figure with over 550,000.
Much of Europe is struggling against a new wave of Covid-19, partly driven by new variants of the virus. Leaders in mainland Europe, including France’s Macron and Germany’s Merkel, blamed the U.K. variant in particular for driving a resurgence in infections. A floundering vaccination campaign, hobbled by supply chain issues and fears of blood clots in AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson’s vaccines, has left much of the EU seeing higher death tolls and renewed lockdowns as it battles the spread of these new variants.
U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, as England eased lockdown restrictions, warned the public Wednesday that the country’s progress “has not been achieved” through its vaccination campaign. He attributed this success to the strict national lockdowns.
With fears over blood clots plaguing two vaccines (Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca) and one country (Denmark) blocking the AstraZeneca shot, the EU has decided to focus on a vaccine that does not make use of an adenovirus vector. Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the bloc would double down on the newer mRNA technology used in the Moderna and BioNTech-Pfizer shots and had entered into negotiations with the latter to provide an additional 1.8 billion doses of the vaccine over the next few years.