Another 700,000 Europeans could die from Covid this winter, the World Health Organization warned today.
WHO officials suggested the continent’s death toll was set to spiral from 1.5million to 2.2million by March amid a ferocious fourth wave.
This figure includes 53 countries in Europe, including EU member states, the UK, Kazakhstan and Russia, among others.
If this prediction is correct, it means that Europe is facing a winter only slightly better than last year, despite vaccines now being widely available.
The WHO said the new wave of the Indian ‘Delta’ variant, vaccine scepticism and relaxing Covid restrictions were to blame for the gloomy prediction.
Some 66 per cent of people in the European Union are already double-jabbed, and many countries are now rolling out booster doses.
Surging cases have also sent several nations scuttling back into lockdowns and tighter restrictions to curb the spread of the virus.
It comes after an AstraZeneca boss suggested that Europe’s hospitalisations are surging because it was slow to roll out their jab to older age groups, unlike the UK.
But scientists say Europe’s fresh wave is likely due to a number of other reasons, including slower booster roll outs, longer lockdowns in the summer and shorter vaccine dosing intervals.
In a sign of a growing crisis the Netherlands today began moving Covid patients to Germany to help ease pressure on its hospitals.
The above graph shows daily Covid cases per million people across several countries in Europe
And this graph shows the cumulative deaths per million people in selected European countries. It reveals that Belgium, Italy and Poland have all suffered a higher proportion of Covid deaths than the UK
WHO officials said Covid deaths in Europe had already doubled since September to some 4,200 a day.
And that the virus was now the leading cause of death on the continent, citing a report by the US-based Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.
Its regional director for Europe Dr Hans Kluge called on European nations to take a ‘vaccine plus’ approach and impose more restrictions including face masks, social distancing and regular hand washing.
Netherlands flies Covid patients to Germany
The Netherlands has started transporting Covid patients to Germany to ease pressure on its hospitals.
Local health officials said this morning a patient suffering from the virus was moved 150 miles by ambulance from Rotterdam to Bochum, in Rhine-Westphalia.
And a second was due to be moved later today.
Some 488 out of 1,050 intensive care beds are currently being used by Covid patients.
Hospitals are already scaling back routine services for cancer patients and heart operations.
And a third of operating theatres have been closed to make way for intensive care beds.
German hospitals have offered 20 beds for patients from the Netherlands so far, after treating dozens during previous waves of the pandemic.
He said: ‘As we approach the end of 2021, let’s do everything we can by getting vaccinated and taking personal protective measures, to avoid the last resort of lockdowns and school closures.
‘We know through bitter experience that these have extensive economic consequences and a pervasive negative impact on mental health, facilitate interpersonal violence and are detrimental to children’s well-being and learning.’
Our World in Data — an Oxford University-based research platform — says 1.38million deaths have been recorded in Europe to date.
Britain has the second-highest number of deaths in the continent at 144,000, with the most recorded in Russia at 256,000.
But when fatalities were considered by population — which experts say is a fairer comparison — Britain drops to 13th place with a rate of 2,116 deaths per million people.
Both Belgium (2,283.9) and Italy (2,205.3) have suffered more deaths from the virus per million people than the UK.
It comes after the chief executive of AstraZeneca Pascal Soriot said the decision by most major EU nations to restrict jabs early in the year could explain why Britain’s neighbours are now suffering higher infection rates.
Just 67million doses have been dished out on the continent, compared to 440million Pfizer jabs even though studies show the Oxford-made jab provides longer lasting protection.
Mr Soriot told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘When you look at the UK there was a big peak of infections but not so many hospitalisations relative to Europe.
‘In the UK this vaccine was used to vaccinate older people whereas in Europe initially people thought the vaccine doesn’t work in older people.’
French President Emmanuel Macron was accused of politicising the roll out of the British-made vaccine in January when he trashed it as ‘quasi-effective’ for people over 65 and claimed the UK had rushed its approval, in what some described as Brexit bitterness.
Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel, 66, also added to initial doubts over the vaccine, stating in February she would not get the jab as her country’s vaccine regulator infamously recommended at time that those over the age of 65 should not have the jab. But Merkel did eventually get the AstraZeneca in April.
EU scepticism about the jab centred around the fact only two people over the age of 65 caught Covid in AZ’s global trials, out of 660 participants in that age group.
Although the vaccine was eventually reapproved for elderly people in France, Germany and other major EU economies, the reputational damage drove up vaccine hesitancy and led to many elderly Europeans demanding they be vaccinated with Pfizer’s jab. Some, such as Denmark and Norway, stopped using AZ for good.