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Europe is not ‘out of the woods’, WHO warns as coronavirus cases rise

The head of the World Health Organization has warned that Europe is “not out of the woods”, as the continent begins to see more cases than it did at the height of the pandemic in April.  

WHO director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that, while deaths remain at a “relatively low level”, the average number of daily cases in Europe is now higher than during the first peak of the pandemic. Spain and France in particular have faced a resurgence of the virus and countries across the continent have introduced a host of new control measures including limiting gatherings and introducing quarantines for travellers arriving from abroad.

According to data from the European Centres for Disease Control Spain is now seeing 250 cases per 100,000 head of the population, compared to around 200 at the peak of the pandemic. The country is also witnessing a rise in the rate of deaths. 

Last week authorities pleaded with young people to stop partying as the country battles a mounting caseload.

And on Saturday France reported 10,561 new cases of the disease – a record increase and a rise of 1,000 from the previous day. The numbers admitted to hospital and intensive care are also increasing.

The number of deaths remains low but Hans Kluge, WHO’s regional director for Europe, told the news agency AFP these numbers would probably rise in the next few weeks as there was a time lag between new cases and deaths. 

“It’s going to get tougher. In October, November, we are going to see more mortality,” he said.

Dr Tedros, speaking at a meeting of WHO’s European region, agreed that the worst of the virus could be yet to come. “Many [European] countries have been among the hardest hit. We are by no means out of the woods,” he said.

He warned that while deaths were still at a low level “there can be no room for complacency”.

“If we do not keep transmission in check, more people will lose their lives, and there is the real risk of reintroducing so-called lockdown measures that have been so costly.”

The warning over Europe comes as the world registered its largest ever increase in the number of cases between Sunday and Monday.

Figures from the WHO show that 307,930 new cases were reported over 24 hours, with deaths rising by more than 5,500, bringing the global total to 917,417. India, the United States and Brazil saw the biggest increases in cases. 

The rising cases come amid a harsh assessment of the world’s response to Covid-19. A report by the Global Preparedness Monitoring Board, which advises WHO on health security, said that there had been “a collective failure to take pandemic prevention, preparedness, and response seriously and prioritize it accordingly”.  

In many countries, leaders had struggled to take early decisive action based on science, evidence and best practice.

Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland, co-chair of the board and director of the WHO during the 2002-03 Sars pandemic, said that if the world spent $5 per person annually on health security over the next five years a future pandemic on the scale of the current one could be prevented. 

But there are signs that world leaders may finally be heeding warnings on pandemic preparedness. In a draft statement seen by the Telegraph and set to be published after a summit on Thursday, ministers of the G20 richest countries concede that “major gaps still exist in global pandemic preparedness and response”. 

Dr Jeremy Farrar, director of UK biomedical research charity Wellcome, urged world leaders to listen to the warnings.

“For years, many people have warned of the likelihood of new infectious diseases emerging, and urged the world to invest in preparedness to avoid pandemics like the one we face today.

“We must take heed of the consequences of not having robust and sustainably financed global preparedness plans – both to end this pandemic and to be better equipped to deal with inevitable future crises.”

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