Europe is likely to experience more than two million Covid-19 deaths by March, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned.
The WHO said the European region remains “in the firm grip” of the coronavirus pandemic, with reported daily deaths rising to almost 4,200 a day – double the 2,100 deaths a day at the end of September.
Reported deaths from the virus have already passed the 1.5 million mark for the 53 countries that make up the WHO European region, the global health agency said.
Covid-19 is the number one cause of death across Europe and central Asia, and the WHO said it expects there to be “high or extreme stress on hospital beds in 25 countries, and high or extreme stress in intensive care units (ICUs) in 49 out of 53 countries between now and March 2022”.
Cumulative reported deaths are projected to reach more than 2.2 million by spring next year, based on current trends, it added.
Dr Hans Kluge, WHO regional director for Europe, said: “In order to live with this virus and continue our daily lives, we need to take a ‘vaccine plus’ approach.
“This means getting the standard doses of vaccine, taking a booster if offered, as well as incorporating preventive measures into our normal routines.
“Taken together, wearing a mask, washing hands, ventilating indoor spaces, keeping physical distance and sneezing into your elbow are simple, effective ways of gaining control over the virus and keeping societies going.
“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.”
According to WHO, the three main factors driving the high cases in Europe are the spread of the Delta variant, which is highly transmissible; people being unvaccinated and waning immunity; and the fact many “countries have indicated to their populations that Covid-19 no longer represents an emergency threat and have eased measures such as mask-wearing and physical distancing in crowded or confined spaces”.
WHO said that now the weather has turned colder, people are also more likely to gather indoors.
It comes as NHS England said more than 417,000 people booked in for their booster jabs on Monday as the booking service opened for people aged 40 to 49.
Around 500,000 people in their 40s had their second dose at least six months ago and are now eligible for a top-up jab.
Dr Kluge said: “As we approach the end of 2021, let’s do everything we can by getting vaccinated and taking personal protective measures, to avoid the last resort of lockdowns and school closures.
“We know through bitter experience that these have extensive economic consequences and a pervasive negative impact on mental health, facilitate interpersonal violence, and are detrimental to children’s well-being and learning.”
The warning comes after German health minister Jens Spahn said on Monday that citizens there will be “vaccinated, cured or dead” by the end of this winter.
WHO said vaccination has saved “hundreds of thousands of lives” but it was essential to drive up vaccination rates among all those who are eligible for one.
Dr Kluge said: “Today, the Covid-19 situation across Europe and central Asia is very serious.
“We face a challenging winter ahead but we should not be without hope, because all of us – governments, health authorities, individuals – can take decisive action to stabilise the pandemic.”