Statement – COVID-19: The stakes are still high

Video: Statement by Dr Hans Henri P. Kluge, WHO Regional Director for Europe, 1-07-2021

Statement by Dr Hans Henri P. Kluge, WHO Regional Director for Europe

1 July, 2021

A 10-week decline in the number of COVID-19 cases in the 53 countries in the WHO European Region has come to an end.

Last week, the number of cases rose by 10%, driven by increased mixing, travel, gatherings and easing of social restrictions. This is taking place in the context of a rapidly evolving situation; a new variant of concern – the Delta variant; and in a Region where despite tremendous efforts by Member States, millions remain unvaccinated.

Delta overtakes alpha very quickly through multiple and repeated introductions, and is already translating into increased hospitalizations and deaths.

By August, the WHO European Region will be “delta dominant”; but by August, the Region will not be fully vaccinated (63% of people are still waiting for their first jab); and in August the WHO European Region will still be mostly restriction-free, with increasing travels and gatherings.

The 3 conditions for a new wave of excess hospitalizations and deaths before the autumn are therefore in place: new variants, deficit in vaccine uptake, increased social mixing; and there will be a new wave in the WHO European Region unless we remain disciplined, and even more so when there are far fewer rules in place to follow – and unless we all take the vaccine without hesitation when it is our turn.

Vaccines are effective against the Delta variant; not 1 dose, but 2 doses. Delays in getting vaccinated cost lives and economies, and the slower we vaccinate, the more variants will emerge. We see many countries doing well, but the truth is that the average vaccine coverage in the Region is 24% only, and more serious, half of our elders and 40% of our health-care workers are still unprotected.

That’s unacceptable; and that is far from the recommended 80% coverage of the adult population.

With these figures, nowhere is the pandemic over, and it would be very wrong for anyone – citizens or policy-makers – to assume that it is.

Today, I am not here to cold shower any EURO 2020 fans or anyone’s holidays, but before we watch our players, and before we all pack and go for some well-deserved rest near home or far away, it is my imperative to give 3 messages:

  • If you decide to travel and gather, assess the risks and do it safely, keeping all life-saving reflexes of masks and self-protection, especially indoors and in crowds.
  • Take the jab, don’t think twice, take it; for you and for others.
  • And, bring the vaccines to our most vulnerable ones first.

COVID-19’s trajectory in the coming weeks and months – whether we are to see a resurgence, whether schools are able to open their doors for our children – depends on the decisions and actions that we as individuals, communities and as governments take now and in the weeks ahead.

The stakes are still high, but let us remember, solidarity pays off.

Thank you.