Mar 22, 2022 - Health

WHO: European countries seeing COVID surge lifted restrictions too soon

WHO Regional Director for Europe Hans Kluge

WHO regional director for Europe Hans Kluge in 2021. Photo: Xinhua/Marios Lolos via Getty Images

European countries that are currently experiencing a rise in COVID-19 cases are doing so partly as a result of lifting their public health restrictions too soon, World Health Organization Europe regional director Hans Kluge said at a briefing Tuesday.

Why it matters: Rising COVID-19 cases in Europe, driven by the BA.2 variant, a subvariant of Omicron, have ignited fears of a potential rise in cases in the U.S.

  • NIAID director Anthony Fauci said earlier this week that while cases may rise, that increase might not be accompanied by a significant uptick in hospitalizations or deaths.

The big picture: "What we are seeing is that 18 out of 53 countries in our region see an increase in COVID-19 in the last week. However the mortality is still decreasing," Kluge said.

  • Kluge noted that countries seeing a spike, in particular, include the U.K., Ireland, Germany, France, Italy, Greece, and Cyprus.
  • One reason is the higher transmissibility of the BA.2 variant, but another is the decision by those countries to lift pandemic health restrictions.
  • "Those countries are lifting the restrictions brutally, from too much to too few," Kluge said.

The bottom line: Kluge said he remained optimistic but "vigilant," attributing his optimism to the large amount of immunity due to vaccines or prior infection, decreasing seasonality as winter finishes, and the fact that “we know Omicron is milder, but in fully vaccinated people, including a booster.”

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