The World Health Organization has warned Europe and Central Asia could face another 700,000 COVID-19 deaths by March 1.
Two-and-a-half weeks ago the same body said excess fatalities could hit 500,000 by February 1.
It said deaths due to COVID-19 rose to nearly 4,200 per day last week — a doubling of levels recorded at the end of September. Cumulative deaths have now reached 1.5 million in WHO's European region, which covers 53 countries in Europe and Central Asia.
"Cumulative reported deaths are projected to reach over 2.2 million by spring next year, based on current trends," the UN health body said in a statement.
“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,” said Dr Hans Kluge, the regional director for WHO Europe.
WHO Europe also cited growing evidence of a decline in protection against infection and mild disease through vaccines, and said a “booster dose” should be given as a priority to the most vulnerable populations — including people with weakened immune systems — as well as people over age 60 and health care workers.
The UN health agency’s however, has repeatedly called for a moratorium on the use of boosters through year-end so that doses can be made available for many developing countries that have faced a severe lack of the COVID-19 vaccines compared to the rich world.
WHO Europe called on people to get vaccinated and respect proper hygiene and practice social distancing to help stop the spread of the virus.
The three factors driving the increase are the highly transmissible delta variant of the virus, an easing of restrictive measures like requirements for mask-wearing and physical distancing in places, and large swaths of the European population that remain unvaccinated, WHO Europe said.
“We can expect that there will 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 1 March 2022,” a WHO Europe statement said.