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Countries are working to contain two variants found in the UK and South Africa that are significantly more transmissible, with public health experts worried about the potential impact on vaccination efforts.
Of course, while the variants spread more easily, there is no clear evidence that mutated viruses are associated with more serious illnesses. But being more transmissible means more people can be infected, which could mean more serious infections and more deaths.
In recent weeks, optimism about the massive deployment of Covid-19 vaccines appears to have been tempered by the rate of resurgence of the spread of the virus.
“We were prepared for a rough start until 2021 and that is just it,” Dr Hans Kluge, WHO Regional Director for Europe, said during an online press briefing.
“This moment represents a tipping point in the course of the pandemic where science, politics, technology and values must form a united front in order to fend off this persistent and elusive virus. ”
‘We are really in the thick of it’
Several countries in Europe have imposed national lockdowns in recent days, and more are expected to follow suit in the coming week to ease the pressure on healthcare facilities already under strain.
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“I have to say that at the moment we are really in the thick of it. Not only are we in the thick of it, we are probably in the European region in the most acute phase of transmission and we continue to see (a) really big impact on hospital services, ”said Dr Catherine Smallwood , Emergency Officer at WHO Europe, during the online briefing.
“To start changing all of that, we really need to reduce transmission and we need to control the spread despite the rollout of vaccinations,” Smallwood said.
On Wednesday, the European Commission gave its final approval for the use of the Covid vaccine developed by the American company Moderna.
It was the second vaccine approved by the EU executive arm, with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine previously given the green light.
The EU, which began its vaccination program on December 27, has been criticized for the slow deployment of the blows across the bloc.
It is trying to catch up with Israel and the United States, where large numbers of people have already received vaccination against the virus.
To date, Europe has recorded 27.5 million confirmed cases of Covid and 603,563 related deaths, according to data compiled by the WHO.