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World Health Organization European director Hans Kluge. Photo: Riccardo De Luca/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Europe is "back at the epicenter of the pandemic" and approaching record COVID-19 case numbers as the Delta variant spreads and vaccination efforts stall in several regions, a top World Health Organization official warned Thursday.

The big picture: Germany reported Thursday its highest number of new coronavirus infections in one day since the pandemic began (33,949). New cases across Europe have risen 55% in the past four weeks, per WHO European director Hans Kluge. "We are at another critical point of pandemic resurgence," he warned.

  • There had been 1.8 million new infections and some 24,000 deaths in the European region in the past week alone, Kluge said.
  • "If we stay on this trajectory, we could see another half a million COVID-19 deaths in Europe and Central Asia by the first of February next year — and 43 countries in our region will face high to extreme stress on hospital beds at some point through the same period," he added.

Of note: "While eight countries have now exceeded 70% coverage, in two countries the rate remains below 10%," Kluge said.

  • "Where vaccine uptake is low — in many countries in the Baltics, central and eastern Europe, and the Balkans — hospital admission rates are high."
  • He noted that along with rapid, widespread vaccination, "testing, contact tracing, ventilation in indoor spaces and physical distancing remain part of our arsenal of defenses."

The bottom line: "We must change our tactics, from reacting to surges of Covid-19 to preventing them from happening in the first place," Kluge said.

Go deeper: The global coronavirus vaccine gap

Go deeper

Nov 26, 2021 - Health

U.S. to restrict air travel from 8 countries over new COVID variant concerns

A COVID-19 vaccine is administered. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The U.S. will impose new air travel restrictions in response to the Omicron variant, a new COVID strain first detected in South Africa, President Biden announced Friday.

The big picture: Air travel from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi will be restricted starting on Monday.

23 hours ago - Health

EU's von der Leyen: Focus on vaccinations as Omicron variant spreads

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. Photo: Yves Herman - WPA Pool/Getty Images

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Sunday said the European Union should focus on pushing for greater vaccination rates to prepare for the spread of the Omicron COVID-19 variant, Reuters reports.

Why it matters: Von der Leyen's remarks come as the world scrambles to respond to concerns over the variant, first discovered in South Africa.

Updated Nov 27, 2021 - Health

COVID-19 Omicron variant cases identified in Europe, U.K.

People wearing masks walk in London on Nov. 25. Photo: Li Ying/Xinhua via Getty Images

Health officials in the United Kingdom, Italy and Germany announced on Saturday that they've detected the first known cases of the new COVID-19 Omicron variant.

Why it matters: The discoveries come as the world scrambles to respond to concerns over the new variant, discovered in South Africa earlier this week.