STORY: In an interview with Reuters, WHO Regional Director for Europe Hans Kluge urged countries to take action now to avoid overwhelming health systems in the autumn and winter as the Omicron subvariant, BA.5 continues to spread rapidly.
Close to three million new COVID-19 cases were reported in Europe last week, which accounted for nearly half of all new cases globally. Hospitalizations have doubled over the same period, and close to 3,000 people die of the disease every week, Kluge said in an accompanying statement.
Pointing to a rise in cases in society which is behaving as it did before the pandemic, he stressed the need for "pandemic stabilizers" such as a second booster dose ahead of the expected variant-specific vaccines in the autumn, as well as the promotion of mask wearing and better ventilation.
When the pandemic began in 2020, governments boosted spending to help cushion the impact of lockdowns on their economies and struggling health systems but piled up large debts and are reluctant to repeat those policies.
"People sometimes ask, is the virus back?," said Kluge. "It has never gone away. It's still there. It's spreading. It is mutating. And unfortunately, it's still taking a lot of lives."