Europe is reeling with an unusually high number of COVID 19 cases for the past few weeks and this can be attributed to the highly transmissible delta variant along with relaxation in COVID norms with respect to wearing of masks and maintaining physical distancing. The situation is further compounded by the fact that there is difference in vaccination rates among the European countries. Similar situation is happening in the USA where double vaccinated people have stopped wearing masks in public areas. The onset of winter in these countries is further making the situation more challenging due to indoor confinement. According to estimates by IHME, cumulative COVID deaths in the region may cross 2.2 million marks by March 2022, if COVID norms are not strictly adhered to, and wearing masks is appearing to be the single most important step that can prevent over 160 000 deaths by 1 March 2022.
It’s been almost two years since the start of the COVID-19 in China and the entire world is still grappling with the disease despite concerted efforts with regards to emergency use vaccination and desperately trying to find measures to control the deadly disease. Recently, there has been a resurgence of cases in Europe and Central Asia and this may be attributed to the highly transmissible delta variant. This is coupled by the fact that a large majority of population is still not vaccinated (reluctance to take vaccines). The situation is further compounded by the relaxed attitude in people with respect to following the COVID norms of wearing masks, social distancing, washing hands and maintaining proper ventilation of indoor spaces. According to estimates by IHME, by performing modelling based on current trends, total COVID-19 deaths in the region may cross 2.2 million marks by March 2022, leading to severe stress on the healthcare system.
The onset of cold winter weather is not helping the cause either. People have started to confine indoors (in rooms without proper ventilation) to escape the winter cold and this could further lead to higher transmission.
With a total population of ~750 million in Europe, over one billion vaccine doses have been administered, with around 53% of the population receiving both the doses. However, this number hides the correct picture of vaccination across various countries as in some Western European countries such as the UK, 83.5% to 89.8% of the adults have taken both the doses. This corresponds to 56-60 million of the total 67 million population in the UK with two doses, which translates to 120 million doses given in the UK alone.
In order to control the pandemic, reducing COVID-19 virus transmission is the key. This can be made possible by increasing the vaccine uptake in regions where there has been a reluctance due to cultural and behavioural issues, complying with COVID norms as much as possible when in public places, and providing booster doses to the vulnerable population such as those aged 60 and over and healthcare workers. According to WHO Europe report, mask wearing reduces COVID-19 incidence by 53%. In addition, if universal mask coverage of 95% is achieved starting today, it is estimated that over 160 000 deaths could be prevented by 1 March 2022.
According to estimates by IHME, increase in vaccine uptake and wearing of masks are the key to preventing COVID 19 transmission and eventually death (see Table I). The death rate due to COVID 19, in the past year, in all the countries listed in Table I, has been around 0.2%-0.3% of the total population, except China where there I no significant mortality (death rate of 0.0003%). However, there is a considerable difference in the double vaccinated population among the countries listed with China being at the top (75%) followed by France (69%), UK (68%), Germany (65%) and the USA (58%). All these countries are projected to increase their vaccination rate by 1-10% by March 2022. Of special mention are Bulgaria and Romania, where the vaccine uptake is stagnated from now till March 2022. Countries such as India are projected to more than double their two-dose vaccination rate by March 2022.
Nevertheless, the data emphasizes that the projected cumulative deaths due to COVID-19 will be significantly reduced if 95% of the people start to wear masks from today and adhere to this norm strictly. In addition, the other COVID-19 norms such as washing hands, physical/social distancing and remaining in well ventilated areas need to be followed as well.
Wearing masks is thus a key recommendation for all these countries and the world going forward, where people are relaxing COVID norms, due to double vaccination and due to lesser number of cases reported, which may be attributed to the weather conditions and/or demographic status.