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COVID-19
UPDATE: European countries ‘must act urgently’ amid worsening Covid outlook
The EU health agency on Wednesday appealed to member states to "urgently" introduce measures to counter surging Covid-19 cases, a day after the WHO Europe warned that 700,000 more may die on the continent this winter.
Published: 23 November 2021 18:14 CET
Updated: 24 November 2021 17:01 CET
Medical personnel works at the intensive care unit with Covid-19 patients in a hospital in Freising near Munich, southern Germany, on November 16, 2021, amid the ongoing coronavirus Covid-19 pandemic. Photo by Christof STACHE / AFP
With more than 2.5 million cases and almost 30,000 deaths reported in the past week, Europe is by far the region currently worst hit by the virus, according to AFP’s tally.
The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) on Wednesday said its modelling predicted a grim outcome unless measures were taken “urgently”.
“The potential burden of disease in the EU/EEA from the Delta variant will be very high in December and January unless public health measures are applied now in combination with continued efforts to increase vaccine uptake in the total population,” it said in a statement.
Under 70 percent of the overall population in the EU and the EuropeanEconomic Area (Norway, Liechtenstein and Iceland) have been fully vaccinated.
“This leaves a large vaccination gap that cannot be bridged rapidly and gives ample room for the virus to spread,” the ECDC said.
“We need to urgently focus on closing this immunity gap, offer booster doses to all adults, and reintroduce non-pharmaceutical measures,” ECDC director Andrea Ammon said.
‘700,000’ deaths likely in coming months
Some 700,000 could die in the coming months, the WHO said on Tuesday, as cases creep up across Europe, prompting some countries to reimpose tough restrictions.
The WHO expects “high or extreme stress in intensive care units (ICUs) in 49 out of 53 countries between now and March 1, 2022”.
“Cumulative reported deaths are projected to reach over 2.2 million by spring next year,” it added, up from the current 1.5 million.
Covid-19 is the leading cause of death across Europe and Central Asia, the WHO reported, citing figures from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.
READ ALSO: From lockdowns to bans on unvaccinated – How Europe is tackling new Covid wave
The rise in Europe was being driven by a combination of the highly-contagious Delta variant, insufficient vaccination coverage and the easing of measures such as mask wearing and physical distancing, it said.
“In recent months many countries have indicated to their populations that COVID-19 no longer represents an emergency threat and have eased measures such as mask wearing and physical distancing in crowded or confined spaces. Now, the weather has turned colder, and people are gathering indoors,” WHO Europe said.
According to WHO data, Covid-related deaths increased last week to nearly 4,200 a day, doubling from 2,100 deaths a day at the end of September.
‘Vaccine plus’ approach
The WHO also said evidence was growing that vaccine-induced protection against infection and mild disease was declining but credited the Covid health passes brought in by many countries as “a collective tool to enable societies and people to continue with regular activities.”
“The Covid-19 situation across Europe and Central Asia is very serious. We face a challenging winter ahead,” regional director for WHO Europe, Hans Kluge, said in a statement.
He called for a “vaccine plus” approach, consisting of vaccinations, social distancing, the use of face masks and hand washing.
“In order to live with this virus and continue our daily lives, we need to take a “vaccine plus” approach,” Kluge said.
“This means getting the standard doses of vaccine, taking a booster if offered, as well as incorporating preventive measures into our normal routines.
“Taken together, wearing a mask, washing hands, ventilating indoor spaces, keeping physical distance, and sneezing into your elbow are simple, effective ways of gaining control over the virus and keeping societies going.
“All of us have the opportunity and responsibility to help avert unnecessary tragedy and loss of life, and limit further disruption to society and businesses over this winter season,” said Kluge, WHO Regional Director for Europe. 
The WHO said face masks reduce Covid incidence by 53 percent according to a recent study, and “over 160,000 deaths could be prevented (by March 1st) if universal mask coverage of 95 percent was achieved”.
It also added that over one billion doses have been given in the WHO European Region, with 53.5% of people having completed their vaccine dose series.  
However, this figure hides wide differences between countries, as seen in the chart below.
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TRAVEL NEWS
Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased
The mandatory EU-wide mask requirement for air travel is set to be dropped from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still require passengers to wear masks on some or all flights
Published: 11 May 2022 16:17 CEST
Europe-wide facemask rules on flights are set to be ditched as early as next week in light of new recommendations from health and air safety experts.
The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) dropped recommendations for mandatory mask-wearing in airports and during flights in updated Covid-19 safety measures for travel issued on Wednesday, May 11th.
#EASA and #ECDC have taken the first steps to relax #COVID19 measures for air travelers. While the wearing of face masks will no longer be mandatory it is important to be respectful of others. The full protocol is available here:​https://t.co/Oetq26Xd0g​pic.twitter.com/eBAvQxIEzp
— EASA (@EASA) May 11, 2022
The new rules are expected to be rolled out from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still continue to require the wearing of masks on some or all of flights. And the updated health safety measures still say that wearing a face mask remains one of the best ways to protect against the transmission of the virus.
The joint EASA/ECDC statement reminded travellers that masks may still be required on flights to destinations in certain countries that still require the wearing of masks on public transport and in transport hubs.
It also recommends that vulnerable passengers should continue to wear a face mask regardless of the rules, ideally an FFP2/N95/KN95 type mask which offers a higher level of protection than a standard surgical mask.
“From next week, face masks will no longer need to be mandatory in air travel in all cases, broadly aligning with the changing requirements of national authorities across Europe for public transport,” EASA executive director Patrick Ky said in the statement. 
“For passengers and air crews, this is a big step forward in the normalisation of air travel. Passengers should however behave responsibly and respect the choices of others around them. And a passenger who is coughing and sneezing should strongly consider wearing a face mask, for the reassurance of those seated nearby.”  
ECDC director Andrea Ammon added: “The development and continuous updates to the Aviation Health Safety Protocol in light of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic have given travellers and aviation personnel better knowledge of the risks of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and its variants. 
“While risks do remain, we have seen that non-pharmaceutical interventions and vaccines have allowed our lives to begin to return to normal. 
“While mandatory mask-wearing in all situations is no longer recommended, it is important to be mindful that together with physical distancing and good hand hygiene it is one of the best methods of reducing transmission. 
“The rules and requirements of departure and destination states should be respected and applied consistently, and travel operators should take care to inform passengers of any required measures in a timely manner.”
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