COPENHAGEN - Hans Kluge, the World Health Organization's (WHO) regional director for Europe, called on Thursday for an end to "complacency" as the latest COVID-19 statistics revealed that "Europe is back at the epicenter of the pandemic - where we were one year ago".
"We are at another critical point of pandemic resurgence," he said during an online press conference.
In a tweet, Kluge said that "the current pace of transmission across the 53 countries of the WHO European Region is of grave concern (as) COVID-19 cases are once again approaching record levels".
During the past four weeks, the WHO's European Region has experienced a startling 55-plus percent increase in new COVID-19 cases, and it now accounts for 59 percent of all cases globally and 48 percent of all reported deaths.
Last week, the WHO reported that the European Region registered 1.8 million new cases and 24,000 new deaths.
"Cumulatively, there are now more reported cases in the European Region than in Southeast Asia, the Eastern Mediterranean, the Western Pacific and Africa combined," Kluge said.
This unprecedented increase is due to two reasons: insufficient vaccination coverage and the relaxation of public health and social measures, he said.
"On average, only 47 percent of people in the European Region have completed a full vaccination series. While eight countries have now exceeded 70 percent coverage, in two the rate remains below ten percent," Kluge said.
He reiterated that the COVID-19 vaccines are effective against severe illness and death, and it is imperative that authorities invest all efforts to accelerate the pace of vaccine rollout.
He refrained from suggesting that governments should return to "damaging lockdowns", but called upon the region to fully adopt "tried and tested measures that enable lives to continue".
According to Kluge, if face mask use reached 95 percent in the region, this would save up to "188,000 lives of the half a million that could be lost before February 2022".
"Testing, contact tracing, ventilation in indoor space sand physical distancing remain part of our arsenal of defenses."
Discussing the dangerous coupling of the approaching flu season with COVID-19, he said that both could be stalled and pushed back by the available vaccines and preventive measures.
He reiterated that the current "alarming" situation in the European Region should "trigger all of us to act".