By Rob Picheta and Isabelle Jani-Friend, CNN
Updated: Wed, 24 Nov 2021 15:10:18 GMT
Europe could suffer another 700,000 Covid-19 deaths by March, the World Health Organization (WHO) has said.
It's the latest in a series of dire warnings for the region, which is in the grip of a devastating fourth wave of cases that has plunged several countries back into lockdown.
More than 1.5 million people in Europe have already died from Covid during the pandemic. WHO's latest projections suggest that number will rise to 2.2 million over the winter months, with "high or extreme stress" set to hit intensive care units in 49 of the 53 nations in the region.
But the agency's statement on Tuesday also insisted that mask-wearing could prevent many of those deaths. If 95% of people wore masks, WHO estimated that more than 160,000 fatalities would be avoided by spring.
And it urged countries not to rely entirely on their vaccine rollouts, which have stalled in parts of Europe.
"In order to live with this virus and continue our daily lives, we need to take a 'vaccine plus' approach," said Hans Kluge, WHO's regional director for Europe. That means mask-wearing, social distancing, ventilating indoor spaces and washing hands.
"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," Kluge added.
Europe has been crippled by a surge in Delta cases in recent weeks. Infection records have been broken several times over in Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Ireland, Russia and beyond, and several countries are resorting to drastic measures to counter the wave.
Austria plans to become the first country in the region to make vaccinations mandatory by February, and leaders around the European Union have been making their frustrations known at those who haven't yet received a shot.
Angry anti-lockdown protests took place in the Austrian capital Vienna over the weekend, as well as in the Netherlands and Belgium, but tight new restrictions remain in place around the continent as Christmas approaches.
And that may be key in preventing this wave, and keeping future surges at bay, experts say, until enough people have been inoculated.
"It's too late to prevent another wave, because the vaccination coverage is too low. So we have to focus on keeping mortality down," Kluge told CNN on Tuesday.
"To focus only on vaccinations is not going to help us. We need to do it all."
YOU ASKED. WE ANSWERED.
Q: How can we prepare for a potential Covid surge this winter?
A: Winter is almost here and with colder weather and an increase in indoor gatherings, the risk of Covid transmission is higher.
However, unlike last year, we have vaccines that add an important layer of protection, and other tools, like testing, that can help. So while there may be increased risks, we don't need to be resigned to a winter surge. CNN Medical Analyst Dr. Leana Wen shares her tips on how to prepare and get through this period safely.
Anyone eligible to be vaccinated should do so, including children aged 5 to 11 years old and those who are now eligible to receive their booster shots. Get the flu vaccine, to prevent the possibility of a "twin-demic" of the flu and Covid-19. Stock up on rapid tests. In the United States, these are available for purchase over the counter at your local pharmacy. High-quality masks (N95, KN95, KF94) should be worn indoors and in crowded areas. Many medical appointments have been delayed due to Covid-19. Now is the time to get on top of your other medical issues. Opt for outside gatherings where possible and continue to exercise caution.
Send your questions here. Are you a health care worker fighting Covid-19? Message us on WhatsApp about the challenges you're facing: +1 347-322-0415.
READS OF THE WEEK
Romania is battling its worst Covid-19 wave yet as bodies pile up outside a morgue
At the morgue of the Bucharest University Hospital, a medic hammered a nail into a wooden coffin. A colleague sprayed the coffin with disinfectant.
"It's relentless -- relentless," sighed nurse Claudiu Ionita, standing in front of a line of gurneys in the hospital's mortuary. On each gurney lay a body inside a black plastic bag.
The morgue has a capacity for 15 bodies, but on the day CNN visited, it had received 41, with excess bodies filling the corridor outside.
Bucharest University Hospital is the Romanian capital's largest medical facility treating Covid-19 patients and is struggling through the country's fourth wave, its worst yet, Cristiana Moisescu and Ben Wedeman report.
Romania has one of Europe's lowest vaccination rates, with under 36% of the population vaccinated. Medical workers and officials have attributed it to a variety of factors, including suspicion of authorities, deeply held religious beliefs, and a flood of misinformation surging through social media.
Europe is learning a crucial lesson -- vaccines work, but they won't stop Covid alone
As Western Europe's vaccination rollout gained strength in the early part of 2021, many of the region's leaders touted the shots as their immediate route out of the pandemic. But nations are now reckoning with the gradually waning immunity of those doses, Rob Picheta writes.
Even a relatively strong vaccination rate is not enough alone to stop the spread of Covid-19 -- and warning signs from Germany and Austria -- where infections have skyrocketed in recent weeks -- show the dangers of complacency.
Restrictions differ from country to country, and adherence to them can differ wildly too. "The vaccine is controlling deaths -- but what we're seeing is a virus that has established itself as endemic, and in some countries, it's made greater progress than others because there have been less rigid controls," said David Heymann, a former executive director of WHO's Communicable Diseases Cluster and a professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
What the world can learn from Israel's booster rollout
When it comes to Covid-19, it seems where Israel leads, the rest of the world follows. For almost a year, the country has offered other nations a glimpse into the pandemic's future.
At the end of July, the country began offering boosters to those over the age of 60; since late August, boosters have been available to anyone over the age of 16, five months after their second dose of the vaccine.
Now, a person is not considered fully vaccinated in Israel until they have received a third dose of the vaccine, once they are eligible for it.
More than three months on, Israeli health officials say the data is clear: Booster shots helped bring down the fourth wave of the virus that swept the country in August and September, Hadas Gold writes.
The data highlights stark differences between those with the vaccine -- and the booster -- and those without: On many days over the past month, more than 75% of positive cases were among the unvaccinated, according to health ministry data.
Get ready for Thanksgiving
While many of us look forward to reuniting with loved ones and celebrating the holidays, we need to stay Covid safe.
"Get yourself vaccinated and you can continue to enjoy interactions with your family and others." Dr. Anthony Fauci, America's top infectious-disease expert, told CNN. He added that if you and your family members are fully vaccinated against Covid-19, it's OK to ditch the masks when you are around each other this holiday season.
"And if you're not [vaccinated], please be careful," Fauci said. "Get tested ... when you're getting together."
CNN Medical Analyst Dr. Leana Wen has some more tips on how to travel and celebrate safely over the holidays, whether those around you are fully vaccinated or not.
For many of us, Thanksgiving means reuniting with friends or family we haven't seen in a while. But before you gather around the dinner table, CNN's Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta has tips to share for keeping loved ones safe from Covid-19. Plus, Dr. Gupta invites us into his home where he and his daughters prepare a special family recipe that's sure to warm up any holiday gathering. Listen here.