Europe has found itself at the centre of the coronavirus pandemic once again alongside the US, with most countries reintroducing strict measures to try and slow the spread of the virus.
Hans Kluge, the WHO’s Europe director, said more than 29,000 new Covid-19 deaths were recorded across the continent last week, adding that lockdown restrictions were helping to decrease the number of new cases.
The UK is the worst-hit country in Europe, becoming the first European country to record more than 50,000 deaths last week. France has the highest number of Covid-19 infections, with cases standing at 2,115,717.
Mr Kluge said Europe accounted for 28 per cent of global cases and 26 per cent of deaths. He was especially concerned about the situation in Switzerland and France, where intensive care units are at high risk of becoming overwhelmed.
Speaking at a news conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, Mr Kluge said: “Europe is once again at the epicentre of the pandemic, together with the United States.”
He said the latest figures showed there was “one person dying every 17 seconds” from coronavirus in Europe.
“There is a light at the end of the tunnel, but it will be a tough six months,” he said, referring to the recent developments in vaccine candidates. Vaccines being developed by Oxford, Pfizer-BioNTech, Sputnik and Moderna have all reported promising preliminary data.
Mr Kluge also said this year’s festive season will be “a different Christmas but that does not mean it cannot be a merry one”.
He pointed to the virtual and socially-distanced celebrations carried out by communities observing the Islamic holy month of Ramadan and the Hindu festival of lights, Diwali, as examples of how people adapted to celebrating while under lockdown.
“Cherish the festive season with those close to you,” he said. “If it’s a large gathering of vulnerable people, you may postpone that gathering until you can safely gather.
“Despite the cold, if local restrictions permit, gather outside with loved ones for picnics in the park.”