Covid cases hit new record in Germany as WHO warns of spread in Europe

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Daily Covid infections hit a record high in Germany on Thursday as the World Health Organization warned another 500,000 people could die across Europe, with cases on the rise again.

The disastrous projection came as the UK became the first country to approve an anti-Covid pill and the US announced tough new rules for companies to force employees to get vaccinated, as countries are scrambling to avoid another deadly winter wave of the virus.

But with the rise in infections in Europe, WHO Emergency Director Michael Ryan warned: “I think it’s a wake-up call for the world to see what’s happening in Europe despite availability of vaccination. “

Germany, the most populous country in the EU, has set a new record for daily infections, with nearly 34,000 new cases in the past 24 hours, according to the Robert Koch Institute.

Croatia also hit a new daily record, with 6,310 people testing positive, following in the footsteps of Russia which has repeatedly broken its own records in recent weeks.

The WHO chief for Europe has expressed “grave concern” at the increasing rate of coronavirus infections in Europe, warning that according to “a reliable projection” the current trajectory would mean “another half a million deaths from Covid-19 “by February.

“We are, once again, at the epicenter,” Hans Kluge said at a press conference.

The WHO blamed a combination of insufficient vaccination rates and a relaxation of preventive measures like mask wearing and physical distancing.

Hospital admission rates are higher in countries where fewer people have been vaccinated, Kluge added.

The number of new daily cases has been rising steadily for weeks in Europe, with a total of around 250,000 cases, according to official national data compiled by AFP. Deaths are also on the rise, with some 3,600 recorded daily across the continent.

In the past seven days, Russia – a country with strong vaccine hesitation – led the rise with more than 8,100 deaths, followed by Ukraine with more than 3,800 deaths and Romania with 3,100 deaths, according to AFP data.

Globally, the virus has killed more than five million people since it emerged in China in December 2019.

‘Game changer’

There was better news in Britain, which became the first country in the world to approve the use of Merck’s anti-Covid pill molnupiravir to treat patients with mild to moderate coronavirus.

Health Minister Sajid Javid called the antiviral drug “a game changer for the most vulnerable and the immunocompromised”.

“Today is a historic day for our country as the UK is now the first country in the world to approve an antiviral that can be taken at home for Covid-19,” he said.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) said on Thursday it would try to speed up its review of whether to clear the drug for the EU.

The drug has raised hopes that it can offer easy at-home treatment to vulnerable carriers of Covid, including those with diabetes or who are overweight.

Governments are keen to avoid overcrowded hospital wards and soaring death rates seen in the early stages of the pandemic, with hope placed on vaccines to avoid a repeat of the worst.

In the United States, the worst-affected country in the world with more than 750,000 deaths to date, tens of millions of workers face a Jan. 4 deadline to get vaccinated.

Under new rules announced by President Joe Biden’s administration, employees of large corporations as well as federal healthcare workers and contractors must either be fully immunized by then or undergo weekly tests. .

The move marks the most aggressive step Washington has ever taken against the virus and its highly contagious Delta variant, which has hampered the country’s economic recovery.

“The bottom line is that the vaccination requirements work,” said a senior White House official.

Austria, meanwhile, has tightened restrictions, amid record infections in 2021, to only allow people vaccinated or recovered from Covid-19 to enter restaurants, visit hairdressers and attend larger gatherings.

WHO expert Maria Van Kerhove told reporters in Geneva that there had been a more than 55% increase in cases in the past four weeks in Europe.

(AFP)

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