COPENHAGEN: The World Health Organization (WHO) warned on Monday (Aug 30) that another 236,000 people could die from COVID-19 in Europe by Dec 1, sounding the alarm over rising infections and stagnating vaccine rates on the continent.
The warning comes as the world passed the grim milestone of 4.5 million deaths from COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic, according to an AFP tally on Monday.
Infections rates are ticking up globally again, as the highly transmissible Delta variant takes hold - especially among the unvaccinated - preying on populations where anti-virus measures have been relaxed.
The head of WHO Europe said on Monday that infections and deaths were on the rise again in Europe, particularly in poorer nations in the Balkans, the Caucasus and Central Asia.
"Last week, there was an 11 per cent increase in the number of deaths in the region - one reliable projection is expecting 236,000 deaths in Europe, by Dec 1," WHO Europe director Hans Kluge said Monday.
Europe has already registered about 1.3 million Covid deaths to date.
Of the WHO Europe's 53 member states, 33 have registered an incidence rate greater than 10 per cent in the past two weeks, Kluge said, mostly in poorer countries.
High transmission rates across the continent were "deeply worrying, particularly in the light of low vaccination uptake in priority populations in a number of countries".
Kluge said the Delta variant was partly to blame, along with an "exaggerated easing" of restrictions and measures and a surge in summer travel.
While around half of people in the WHO's Europe region are fully vaccinated, uptake in the region has slowed.
"In the past six weeks, it has fallen by 14 per cent, influenced by a lack of access to vaccines in some countries and a lack of vaccine acceptance in others."
Only six per cent of people in lower and lower-middle income countries in Europe are fully vaccinated, and some countries have only managed to vaccinate one in 10 health professionals.
"The stagnation in vaccine uptake in our region is of serious concern," Kluge said, urging countries to "increase production, share doses and improve access".
VACCINES FOR TEACHERS
Kluge stressed that since public health and social measures were being relaxed in many places, "the public's vaccination acceptance is crucial".
"Vaccine scepticism and science denial is holding us back from stabilising this crisis. It serves no purpose, and is good for no one."
The warning comes as the WHO and UNICEF urged European countries earlier on Monday to make teachers a priority group for vaccinations so schools can stay open.
As schools reopen after the summer holidays, the agencies said it was "vital that classroom-based learning continue uninterrupted", despite the spread of the Delta variant.
"This is of paramount importance for children's education, mental health and social skills, for schools to help equip our children to be happy and productive members of society," Kluge said.
"The pandemic has caused the most catastrophic disruption to education in history," he added.
The agencies urged countries to vaccinate children over the age of 12 who have underlying medical conditions that put them at greater risk of severe COVID-19.
It also recalled the importance of measures to improve the school environment during the pandemic, including better ventilation, smaller class sizes, social distancing and regular COVID-19 testing for children and staff.
About 10,000 COVID-19 deaths are now reported every day around the world, a much lower figure than the highs of January when an average of 14,800 people were being killed daily.
But the figure is much higher than at the start of July when about 7,800 daily deaths were registered.