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COVID-19

Europe’s slow vaccine rollout is ‘prolonging the pandemic’ as infections surge

The World Health Organization on Thursday slammed Europe's vaccine rollout as "unacceptably slow" and said it was prolonging the pandemic as the region sees a "worrying" surge in coronavirus infections.

Europe's slow vaccine rollout is 'prolonging the pandemic' as infections surge
A health worker administers a dose of the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine to a man in a car at a drive-through coronavirus vaccination centre at the Nuevo Colombino stadium in Huelva on March 24, 2021. - Spain raised the maximum age limit for people to receive the AstraZeneca vaccine, which has faced setbacks in Europe due to safety concerns, from 55 to 65. (Photo by CRISTINA QUICLER / AFP)

“Vaccines present our best way out of this pandemic… However, the rollout of these vaccines is unacceptably slow,” WHO director for Europe Hans Kluge said in a statement.

“We must speed up the process by ramping up manufacturing, reducing barriers to administering vaccines, and using every single vial we have in stock, now,” he said.

To date, only 10 percent of the region’s total population have received one vaccine dose, and four percent have completed a full vaccine series, the organisation said.

The WHO’s European region comprises 53 countries and territories and includes Russia and several Central Asian nations.

As of Thursday, more than 152 million doses have been injected in the WHO European region, representing 25.5 percent of doses administered worldwide, according to AFP’s database.

The WHO European region is home to 12 percent of the world’s population.

On average, 0.31 percent of the population in the European region receives a dose every day. While this rate is almost double the global rate of 0.18 percent, it is far below that of the US and Canada, which tops the chart at 0.82 percent.

The WHO said Europe’s slow rollout was “prolonging the pandemic” and described Europe’s virus situation as “more worrying than we have seen in several months.”

Five weeks ago, the weekly number of new cases in Europe had dipped to under one million, but “last week saw increasing transmission of Covid-19 in the majority of countries in the WHO European region, with 1.6 million new cases,” it said.

The total number of deaths in Europe “is fast approaching one million and the total number of cases about to surpass 45 million,” it said, noting that Europe was the second-most affected region after the Americas.

Worrying new variants

The UN body warned that the rapid spread of the virus could increase the risk of the emergence of worrying new variants.

“The likelihood of new variants of concern occurring increases with the rate at which the virus is replicating and spreading, so curbing transmission through basic disease control actions is crucial,” Dorit Nitzan, WHO Europe’s regional emergency director, said in the statement.

New infections were increasing in every age group except in people aged 80 and older, as vaccinations of that age group begin to show effect.

The WHO said the British variant of the virus was now the predominant one in Europe, and was present in 50 countries.

“As this variant is more transmissible and can increase the risk of hospitalisation, it has a greater public health impact and additional actions are required to control it,” it said.

Those actions included expanded testing, isolation, contact tracing, quarantine and genetic sequencing.

Meanwhile, the WHO said lockdowns “should be avoided by timely and targeted public health interventions”, but should be used when the disease “overstretches the ability of health services to care for patients adequately.”

It said 27 countries in its European region were in partial or full nationwide lockdown, with 21 imposing nighttime curfews.

Member comments

  1. WHO claims Europe should send supplies to Poor Countries
    WHO complains Europe is not vaccinating fast enough
    WHO totally ignores the shortage of actual vaccines available to European Countries.
    I really begin to think that this organisation does not have any grip on reality

  2. Europe is a joke. Its the laughing stock of the first world. Europe is third world with first world ego. Pathetic!!

  3. Germany and the EU in general has made a debacle of the vaccination programme. Twelve months ago, the Covid issue was 90% medical and 10% political in its underpinnings. That ratio is now reversed with political posturing and an obsession with bureaucracy and over-thinking costing many lives and extending the misery of lockdown for millions.

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ENERGY

How European countries are spending billions on easing energy crisis

European governments are announcing emergency measures on a near-weekly basis to protect households and businesses from the energy crisis stemming from Russia's war in Ukraine.

How European countries are spending billions on easing energy crisis

Hundreds of billions of euros and counting have been shelled out since Russia invaded its pro-EU neighbour in late February.

Governments have gone all out: from capping gas and electricity prices to rescuing struggling energy companies and providing direct aid to households to fill up their cars.

The public spending has continued, even though European Union countries had accumulated mountains of new debt to save their economies during the Covid pandemic in 2020.

But some leaders have taken pride at their use of the public purse to battle this new crisis, which has sent inflation soaring, raised the cost of living and sparked fears of recession.

After announcing €14billion in new measures last week, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi boasted the latest spending put Italy, “among the countries that have spent the most in Europe”.

The Bruegel institute, a Brussels-based think tank that is tracking energy crisis spending by EU governments, ranks Italy as the second-biggest spender in Europe, after Germany.

READ ALSO How EU countries aim to cut energy bills and avoid blackouts this winter

Rome has allocated €59.2billion since September 2021 to shield households and businesses from the rising energy prices, accounting for 3.3 percent of its gross domestic product.

Germany tops the list with €100.2billion, or 2.8 percent of its GDP, as the country was hit hard by its reliance on Russian gas supplies, which have dwindled in suspected retaliation over Western sanctions against Moscow for the war.

On Wednesday, Germany announced the nationalisation of troubled gas giant Uniper.

France, which shielded consumers from gas and electricity price rises early, ranks third with €53.6billion euros allocated so far, representing 2.2 percent of its GDP.

Spending to continue rising
EU countries have now put up €314billion so far since September 2021, according to Bruegel.

“This number is set to increase as energy prices remain elevated,” Simone Tagliapietra, a senior fellow at Bruegel, told AFP.

The energy bills of a typical European family could reach €500 per month early next year, compared to €160 in 2021, according to US investment bank Goldman Sachs.

The measures to help consumers have ranged from a special tax on excess profits in Italy, to the energy price freeze in France, and subsidies public transport in Germany.

But the spending follows a pandemic response that increased public debt, which in the first quarter accounted for 189 percent of Greece’s GDP, 153 percent in Italy, 127 percent in Portugal, 118 percent in Spain and 114 percent in France.

“Initially designed as a temporary response to what was supposed to be a temporary problem, these measures have ballooned and become structural,” Tagliapietra said.

“This is clearly not sustainable from a public finance perspective. It is important that governments make an effort to focus this action on the most vulnerable households and businesses as much as possible.”

Budget reform
The higher spending comes as borrowing costs are rising. The European Central Bank hiked its rate for the first time in more than a decade in July to combat runaway inflation, which has been fuelled by soaring energy prices.

The yield on 10-year French sovereign bonds reached an eight-year high of 2.5 percent on Tuesday, while Germany now pays 1.8 percent interest after boasting a negative rate at the start of the year.

The rate charged to Italy has quadrupled from one percent earlier this year to four percent now, reviving the spectre of the debt crisis that threatened the eurozone a decade ago.

“It is critical to avoid debt crises that could have large destabilising effects and put the EU itself at risk,” the International Monetary Fund warned in a recent blog calling for reforms to budget rules.

The EU has suspended until 2023 rules that limit the public deficit of countries to three percent of GDP and debt to 60 percent.

The European Commission plans to present next month proposals to reform the 27-nation bloc’s budget rules, which have been shattered by the crises.

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