“Winter promises to be a difficult period but we know how to curb the virus”

As the number of Covid cases soars in Europe – with an incidence of 400 cases per 100,000 inhabitants – several countries have taken or are planning to take measures targeting the unvaccinated. Faced with the magnitude of this new wave, the World Health Organization (WHO) does not hide its concern. “We are all tired, but we have winter ahead of us”, warns Catherine Smallwood, director of emergency situations for the Europe region. “It’s shaping up to be a difficult time. “ In an exclusive interview with World, it details the issue for the weeks and months to come.

Europe is once again the center of the Covid epidemic. What are the WHO scenarios for winter?

The circulation of the virus is accelerating in almost all European countries and we have just passed the 1.5 million death mark: it is an alert. Winter promises to be a difficult period, but we know how to curb the virus: with vaccination and individual protection measures such as wearing a mask. In the countries where they continue to be applied – Spain, Portugal, Italy and France – the incidence is lower than elsewhere.

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In many countries of Eastern Europe, vaccination coverage appears too low to curb the virus. What to expect

The situation is already catastrophic in Romania and Bulgaria, where hospitals are overwhelmed, with images reminiscent of those of March 2020. The low vaccination coverage is not only a question of availability of doses: there is the hesitation of part of the population but also a distribution system that is not up to par. Many countries have started their vaccination campaign by telling people: “Here are the vaccines, come and take them. It worked a bit at first, but it quickly stopped. You have to find people: those who are isolated, those who have doubts, those who do not have the Internet to make an appointment …

Could curfew or confinement-type measures become topical in Europe?

This is a very strong possibility. Before we get there, we recommend that countries take targeted action early on to enable people to continue with their daily lives. Several countries have done so this week. Having to stay at home is an end to which we no longer want to reach.

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After two years, how to manage population fatigue?

We are all tired, but we have winter ahead of us. Some countries, some populations hoped that the vaccine would solve the pandemic. But the WHO has always been clear on this: it will not be enough. Other measures are needed, and the population must be more engaged than it is now. Even if 100% of people were vaccinated, the virus would continue to circulate because vaccines are not 100% effective. But strong coverage achieves the primary goal of immunization: saving lives. Without the vaccine, with today’s case rate, we would have lost many more lives in 2021.

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