The lights are on, but Vienna's Christmas market is closed on Tuesday as Austria endures a COVID-19 lockdown. (VADIM GHIRDA / AP)
COPENHAGEN－COVID-19 deaths in Europe are projected to exceed 2.2 million by spring based on current trends, according to a news release by the World Health Organization's regional office on Wednesday.
The projection comes as the region remains in the grip of the coronavirus pandemic, with the number of reported deaths increasing close to 4,200 a day, up from 2,100 a day at the end of September. The cumulative number of COVID-19 related deaths has already passed the 1.5 million mark for the region's 53 countries.
"Today, COVID-19 is the number one cause of death across Europe and Central Asia," said the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, which carries out modeling for WHO Europe.
The WHO's predictions for hospitals in the region are likewise dire. It expects there will be high or extreme stress on hospital beds in 25 countries, and high or extreme stress in intensive care units in 49 out of 53 countries between now and March 1, 2022.
As explained in the news release, the current wave of infections is the result of three main factors. The first factor is that the European region is "Delta dominant", in reference to the highly transmissible Delta variant, with no country reporting more than 1 percent of any other variant.
The second factor is the recent decision by many countries in the region to relax restrictions. The third factor refers to the large number of people who are still not vaccinated or whose vaccine-induced protection has decreased. The WHO said evidence is growing that vaccine-induced protection against infection and mild disease is declining.
In the European Union, 67.7 percent of the population are fully vaccinated. But rates vary widely among countries, with low levels in many eastern countries. Only 24.2 percent of Bulgarians are fully vaccinated, compared with 86.7 percent in Portugal.
The prospect of a winter under renewed restrictions saw Austria return to lockdown this week while Germany and the Netherlands are poised to announce new restrictions. The curbs have sparked unrest in several countries.
Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo called violence at a 35,000-strong protest in Brussels "absolutely unacceptable".
Xinhua - Agencies
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