World Health Organization (WHO) Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus attends a press conference held by the Geneva Association of United Nations Correspondents (ACANU) amid COVID-19 on July 3, 2020 at WHO headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland – Outbreak is organized.
Fabrice Coffrini | Swimming pool | Reuters
The World Health Organization urges the public to practice Covid containment tactics – including masking and distancing – regardless of vaccination status, as cases increase across Europe before the Christmas season.
Some countries and communities have been lured into a “false sense of security” that the pandemic is over and those vaccinated are fully protected from Covid, said WHO Director General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus during an update in Geneva on Wednesday.
He found that Covid vaccines “save lives” and reduce the risk of serious illness and death, but those vaccinated can still catch the virus and spread the virus if the social mix returns to pre-pandemic levels.
“Even if you are vaccinated, continue to take precautions to avoid infecting yourself and infecting someone else who may die,” said Tedros. “That means wearing a mask, keeping your distance, avoiding crowds and meeting others outside if you can, or in a well-ventilated room inside.”
Tedros called Europe “the epicenter of the pandemic” with “unsustainable pressures” on both health systems and staff. Europe accounted for 67% of all new Covid cases worldwide with more than 2.4 million infections in the week of November 21, an increase of 11% over the previous seven days, according to the WHO’s latest weekly epidemiological update.
The WHO office for Europe and Central Asia announced Tuesday that these regions have exceeded a total of 1.5 million Covid deaths and could suffer 700,000 more deaths by March 2022, stressing over the next four months.
Governments scaling back public health policies are fueling the current outbreak in Europe, said Dr. Mike Ryan, Executive Director of the WHO Emergency Health Program.
“In Europe, even in the midst of a very, very strong resurgence in cases, and even in the midst of some of these countries that are under tremendous pressure on their health systems, we are seeing pre-pandemic levels of social mixing, gathering and many other things,” Ryan said. And the reality is that the virus continues to be transmitted intensely in this environment. “
Although the majority of Covid cases reported around the world are in Europe, Tedros added that “no country or region has gone off the rails yet”. But expanding vaccination protection, wearing masks, using distancing and improving indoor ventilation can all help curb Covid transmission without resorting to holiday-time locks, said Maria Van Kerkhove, technical director the WHO for Covid.
Covid infections are also increasing in the US, with an average of more than 95,000 new cases being reported every day, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. According to Hopkins, an average of more than 1,100 people die from the virus every day in the United States.
More than 51,000 Americans are currently hospitalized with Covid-19, according to a seven-day average of health and social care data as of Wednesday, up 7% over the past week.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that unvaccinated individuals ages 2 and up should wear a mask in indoor public spaces. The fully vaccinated should wear face coverings indoors or in crowded outdoor areas in places with increased Covid transmission, according to the agency. The CDC also requires masks on board planes, trains and buses, as well as in all traffic centers.
The CDC guidelines also recommend a distance of two meters between people who do not live in the same household, especially those at high risk of severe Covid symptoms.
Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former head of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and board member of Pfizer, told CNBC that due to poor surveillance of breakthrough infections in the U.S., more vaccinated people are infected with the virus than people are aware of
“At this point, I think we have to accept that there are many breakthrough infections, especially in people who fail a significant portion of their original vaccination,” said Gottlieb. “There will be retrospective studies that will identify this, but we’re not doing a good job of following this in real time. And that’s the argument for people to get boosters,” he said.
The US released Pfizer and Moderna boosters for all adults on Friday. Johnson & Johnson boosters were released by the CDC in October. The WHO has criticized the widespread use of boosters in affluent countries because people in poorer countries have very limited access to vaccines.
The Netherlands was partially banned on Saturday, while Austria’s fourth full Covid ban began on Monday, with a nationwide vaccine mandate going into effect on Feb. 1. Germany is also considering introducing a lockdown as the country’s seven-day average for new cases hit a record high of more than 53,100 a day on Tuesday, 29% more than the week before, according to a CNBC analysis of data from the Johns Hopkins University.
The White House said Monday the Biden government had no plans for a lockdown, pointing to rising vaccination rates and new therapeutic treatments coming online. The U.S. government has bought 10 million courses of Pfizer’s Covid treatment pill Paxlovid, which during a clinical study showed great effectiveness in preventing hospital stays.
“We can contain the spread of the virus without having to shut down our economy in any way,” Jeff Zients, White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator, told reporters during a briefing. “We now have 82% of the people vaccinated and more and more people are being vaccinated every week.”