India virus cases dip as WHO warns Europe

·3-min read

The World Health Organisation says its projections indicate hundreds of thousands more people in Europe could die in connection with the coronavirus by spring 2022 while Indian authorities report a drop in infections.

Intensive care units in 49 of 53 countries in the European region are expected to face a high or extreme burden between now and March 1, the WHO Europe warned on Tuesday.

Based on current trends, the total number of reported coronavirus deaths is estimated to rise to more than 2.2 million by next spring - it has just passed the 1.5 million mark.

This can be prevented with immediate action, the Copenhagen-based organisation said.

Universal mask-wearing alone could prevent an estimated 160,000 deaths by March 1, 2022, according to a study.

"In order to live with this virus and continue our daily lives, we need to take a 'vaccine plus' approach," WHO Regional Director Hans Kluge urged.

"This means getting the standard doses of vaccine, taking a booster if offered, as well as incorporating preventive measures into our normal routines.

"Taken together, wearing a mask, washing hands, ventilating indoor spaces, keeping physical distance and sneezing into your elbow are simple, effective ways of gaining control over the virus and keeping societies going."

WHO Europe believes there are three factors behind the current increase in the number of new infections in many places.

Firstly, the highly contagious Delta variant dominates in the region.

Secondly, countries have signalled to their populations in recent months that COVID-19 is no longer an urgent threat and have relaxed measures such as the mandatory use of masks.

Thirdly, many people remain vulnerable to the virus because large numbers are still unvaccinated.

India reported 7579 new coronavirus infections on Tuesday, the smallest rise in one-and-a-half-years despite huge festival gatherings in recent weeks.

The country of 1.35 billion celebrated Durga Puja in October and Diwali this month, during which millions of people shopped, travelled and met family, mostly without masks.

Mask-wearing is nearly non-existent outside the big cities.

"Even after Diwali, we are not seeing a surge," said MD Gupte, a former director of the state-run National Institute of Epidemiology, attributing it mainly to the presence of antibodies in a huge majority of Indians through natural infection.

"I think we are much safer now."

Government surveys have estimated that nearly 70 per cent of people in India had been naturally infected by July following a record rise in infections and deaths in April and May.

So far, 81 per cent of India's 944 million adults have received at least one dose of vaccine and 43 per cent have had two doses.

Vaccination for people under 18 has not yet begun.

India has since the start of the pandemic reported a total of 34.5 million COVID-19 cases, second only to the tally in the United States.

India's coronavirus-linked deaths rose by 236 in the past 24 hours to 466,147.

with AP and Reuters

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