Brussels: Even as Covid virus cases continue to mount in Europe and Central Asia, the regions are likely to see about 500,000 additional deaths before February 1, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has said.
Over the last four weeks, the region saw a 55 per cent increase in new Covid-19 cases, while Europe and Central Asia together accounted for 59 per cent of global cases and 48 per cent of reported deaths.
Dr Hans Kluge, WHO's European regional director attributed the increased risk to low mask use and vaccine hesitancy, the euronews reported.
Kluge also blamed the surge on other factors such as the winter season, including people gathering in confined closed places, and the Delta variant.
According to WHO experts, across the region there is a "huge variation in uptake" of the Covid-19 vaccines.
While around one billion vaccine doses have been administered in the region, only about 47 per cent of people in the region are fully vaccinated, the report said.
But Kluge said if Europe and Central Asia had 95 per cent of people wearing masks, they could save up to 188,000 lives of the half a million that could be lost before February 2022.
Kluge also defended the use of the Covid-19 pass, stating that it was a "tool towards individual liberty" instead of something that restricted freedom.
"Transmission is high in many countries across the European region... not just in one country," Dr Catherine Smallwood, from the WHO's emergencies team, was quoted as saying.
"Of course, Europe as a continent is highly interconnected, more so maybe than other regions, and this may also be a factor in the way that the pandemic evolves," she added.
In Eastern Europe, where vaccination rates remain low, many countries are struggling to contain deadly waves of the virus.
Smallwood added that there are "far too many pregnant women hospitalised with Covid-19 across the region at the moment" and that experts needed to do more to explain the benefits and risks of Covid-19 vaccination to them.
While the Delta variant dominates the region, offshoots such as AY. 4.2 and AY.4.3 has also been detected from many countries in Europe.
More than 26,000 cases of the Delta Covid subvariant AY.4.2, considered up to 15 per cent more transmissible than the original Delta, has been reported from 42 countries, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Although AY.4.3 is not as widespread as AY.4.2 yet, it has been growing in Denmark, France, Belgium and Germany and the UK.