Covid cases up across Europe for first time since start of year

Rebecca Speare-Cole

Coronavirus cases have increased across Europe for the first time since the start of the year as countries start to ease lockdown measures, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has said.

The latest research from Our World In Data shows that there has been a recent uptick in cases in Europe in the last week.

At a press conference on Monday, WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said an increase in cases can be seen across four of the organisation's six regions – the Americas, Europe, South East Asia and the Eastern Mediterranean.

Austria, Belgium, Portugal, Finland and Italy are some of the European countries to see a surge in new cases in the last few days, according to Our World In Data.

Tedros said the increase was "disappointing but not surprising", blaming it on countries relaxing public health measures, the spread of new variants and “people letting their guard down”.

It comes as countries race to vaccinate their population, with the UK’s latest figures showing the rollout may already be helping to bring deaths and hospitalisations down.

Vaccine programs are bringing countries hope that they can soon start to lift economically crippling lockdown measures.

But Tedros said it was too early for countries to rely solely on vaccination programmes and abandon other measures.

Watch: Giving up on controlling Covid-19 is 'dangerous' - WHO

"If countries rely solely on vaccines, they are making a mistake. Basic public health measures remain the foundation of the response," he said.

He also criticised rich countries for hoarding vaccine doses, saying that it was in everyone's interest for vulnerable people to be protected around the world.

Tedros noted that Ghana and Ivory Coast became the first countries on Monday to begin vaccinating people with doses supplied by COVAX, the international programme to provide vaccines for poor and middle-income countries.

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However, he added: "It's regrettable that some countries continue to prioritise vaccinating younger healthier adults at lower risk of diseases in their own populations, ahead of health workers and older people elsewhere."

Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO technical lead for Covid-19, told the briefing: "We need to have a stern warning for all of us: that this virus will rebound if we let it and we cannot let it."

Meanwhile, Mike Ryan, the organisation’s top emergency expert, said the global fight against the coronavirus was in a better state now than it was 10 weeks ago before the roll-outs of vaccines had begun but it was too early to say the virus was coming under control.

"The issue is of us being in control of the virus and the virus being in control of us. And right now the virus is very much in control,” he said.

Watch: WHO: Vaccine nationalism 'moral failure'