Covid Live Updates: Cases and Deaths Are Surging in Europe, W.H.O. Warns
Europe is again experiencing near-record levels of coronavirus infections, and could experience half a million Covid-related deaths in the next three months, the World Health Organization said on Thursday.
Europe accounted for 59 percent of the world’s newly reported coronavirus cases last week, and for nearly half the world’s Covid-related deaths, Hans Kluge, the W.H.O.’s director for the 53 countries in its European region, told reporters.
Dr. Kluge said that there were 1.8 million new cases and about 24,000 deaths in the European region in the past week.
“We are at another critical point of pandemic resurgence,” Dr. Kluge said. “Europe is back at the epicenter of the pandemic — where we were one year ago.”
The region is reporting an average of more than 30 new cases a day for every 100,000 people, a rate that has almost doubled since mid-September. Eighteen of the 20 countries around the world that are reporting the most new cases per day, relative to their populations, are in Europe or the part of Central Asia that the W.H.O. includes in its European region.
Covid-related deaths in Europe are also increasing.
“If we stay on this trajectory, we could see another half a million Covid-19 deaths in Europe and Central Asia by the first of February next year,” Dr. Kluge said.
The surge in infections, driven by the Delta variant, is affecting all age groups, Dr. Kluge said, but it has been deadliest among older people. Three-quarters of those who died last week were over 65, and most were not fully vaccinated, he said.
Hospitals are being flooded with Covid patients across the region; in 43 of the 53 countries, hospitals are likely to face high to extreme stress in the next three months, the W.H.O. projected.
Dr. Kluge said the virus was surging because precautions like mask-wearing were relaxed and because too few people have been vaccinated.
Eight countries in the region have vaccinated more than 70 percent of their populations, but two have managed to immunize less than 10 percent, he said. Hospital admission rates were high, he said, in the countries where vaccination rates were low.
Outbreaks have also appeared in unvaccinated populations in countries with relatively high rates of vaccination. In Italy, which has fully vaccinated 72 percent of its population and recently imposed stringent national rules to encourage workers to get vaccinated, the city of Trieste became a hotbed of infections two weeks after thousands of vaccine skeptics gathered to protest the new rules.
Dr. Kluge also emphasized the continued need for basic precautions like mask-wearing, social distance and good indoor ventilation, and he took note of projections that 188,000 lives could be saved in Europe in the next three months if 95 percent of the population wore masks.
“We must change our tactics, from reacting to surges of Covid-19 to preventing them from happening in the first place,” Dr. Kluge said.
The drug, known as molnupiravir and sold by the pharmaceutical company Merck, was shown in a key clinical trial to reduce by half the risk of hospitalization and death in high-risk Covid patients who were treated early in their infections. Dispensed from a pharmacy and taken at home, the drug is expected to reach many more people than treatments like monoclonal antibodies, which are typically administered intravenously at a hospital or clinic.
Britain, which has already ordered enough supplies of the pill for 480,000 people, is one of growing list of wealthy countries that have raced to lock up supplies of the drug. Merck said last week it has reached deals to sell the pills to the governments of the United States, Australia, South Korea, New Zealand, Serbia and Singapore.
The drug is expected to become available in the United States as soon as December, after a panel of experts meets at the end of this month to make a recommendation to the Food and Drug Administration about whether it should be authorized for high-risk Covid patients. The United States has ordered enough supply of the drug for 1.7 million patients, at a cost of about $700 per person.
Britain’s regulator, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, recommended giving the drug to people as soon as possible after a positive coronavirus test and within five days of the onset of symptoms. The full course of treatment is 40 pills over five days.
The regulator authorized the drug for both vaccinated and unvaccinated people who have at least one trait — such as being over 60 years old or having obesity — that would put them at high risk for becoming severely ill from the virus.
So far, 75 percent of Britain’s population has received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, while 68 percent have been fully vaccinated, according to a New York Times database.
Sajid Javid, the British health secretary, described the Merck pill’s authorization as a “historic day” for the country. “This will be a game changer for the most vulnerable and the immunosuppressed, who will soon be able to receive the groundbreaking treatment,” he said.
The Biden administration said on Thursday that large companies have until Jan. 4 to ensure that their workforces are fully vaccinated under a sweeping new coronavirus health measure that will cover 84 million private sector workers.
The plan was first announced in September by President Biden, who directed the Labor Department to invoke its emergency powers over the safety of workplaces to require businesses with 100 or more employees to mandate vaccinations for all employees. Workers who refuse to get vaccinated must undergo weekly testing.
Also on Thursday, the administration unveiled new emergency regulations for health care workers, including those at nursing homes caring for elderly and sick residents who are at high risk for infection. All 17 million workers at health care facilities receiving either Medicare or Medicaid funding must be vaccinated by Jan. 4.
Mr. Biden has previously imposed vaccine requirements on federal workers and companies that receive federal contracts.
But the new rule covering employees of all large private businesses is a more dramatic use of his executive power, prompting some state officials to criticize the move and threaten to try to stop them.
Some major companies including Tyson Foods and United Airlines were quick to embrace mandates, spurred by the president’s announcement in September. But many others have held off, citing the need for clarification from the government on a range of questions, including who will pay for testing and whether the rule applies to employees who work at home.
Many of those questions are answered by the new requirements and guidance published by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration on Thursday. Companies that had been waiting for the final rules to be made public are expected to begin announcing mandates, experts said.
According to OSHA’s new requirements, workers are considered fully vaccinated if they’ve received two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines, or one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Companies must provide paid-time off for their employees to get vaccinated and sick leave for side effects as needed. And employers are not required to either pay for or provide tests, though some may still be compelled to do so by other laws or agreements with unions.
Companies that fail to comply with the rule may be subject to fines, depending on how frequently they violate it and whether violations are intentional, a White House official said. An OSHA penalty is typically $13,653 for every serious violation.
Over the past month, the Department of Labor received feedback on the rule from trade groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, as well as executives from UPS, the Walt Disney Company, Fidelity Investments and many others. They have voiced concerns about cost, logistics and potential…