London: The World Health Organization said that it is “very worried” as Covid cases continue to spike in Europe.
According to regional director Dr. Hans Kluge, the risk is due to low mask use and vaccine hesitancy, winter season, and dominance of the more transmissible Delta variant. Several European countries have loosened masking requirements, citing vaccine efficacy.
Dr. Kluge said 500,000 more deaths could be recorded by March unless urgent action is taken, the BBC reported.
The warning comes as several nations report record-high infection rates and introduce full and partial lockdowns.
He said that an increase in mask wearing could immediately help.
Dr. Kluge called for increased vaccine uptake and the implementation of basic public health measures and new medical treatments to help fight the rise.
“Covid-19 has become once again the number one cause of mortality in our region,” he told the BBC, adding “we know what needs to be done” in order to fight the virus.
Dr. Kluge said mandatory vaccination measures should be seen as a “last resort” but that it would be “very timely” to have a “legal and societal debate” about the issue.
“Before that, there are other means like the Covid pass,” he said, adding that this is “not a restriction of liberty, rather it is a tool to keep our individual freedom.”
Europe is again becoming the region most seriously affected by the pandemic.
Austria on Friday became the first European country to announce that Covid-19 vaccination would become a legal requirement.
The new rules are set to come into force in February, as details of how the measure will be enforced are still being discussed.
The announcement, alongside that of a new national lockdown was made in response to record case numbers and low vaccination levels.
Other European countries are also imposing new measures as cases rise, the report said.
Slovak Prime Minister Eduard Heger announced that what he called a lockdown for the unvaccinated would start on Monday. The Czech government is also limiting access to a variety of services.
The Netherlands introduced a partial lockdown last weekend. German leaders have also agreed to introduce restrictions for unvaccinated people in areas with high Covid hospital admissions that would affect 12 of Germany’s 16 states, the report said.
In Germany, Health Minister Jens Spahn described the situation as a “national emergency” and refused to rule out another national lockdown.