Spiralling COVID infections grip low-vaccination parts of Europe, WHO expresses concern-


Maharashtra reports 1,410 new cases, 18 deaths; active tally at 23,894-


ZAGREB (CROATIA): Countries throughout Central and Eastern Europe reported spiralling coronavirus cases Thursday, with several hitting new daily records in the regions that have lower vaccination rates than the rest of the continent.

Croatia, Slovenia and Slovakia reported their highest numbers of daily cases of the pandemic, while other countries registered the most infections in months.

Most countries in Central and Eastern Europe have vaccinated about half of their populations or less, which is lower than the European Union average.

Anti-virus restrictions have also varies as governments sought to boost vaccination rates rather than reimpose limits on gatherings and other measures.

In Croatia, authorities reported a record daily high of 6,310 new cases and 32 deaths.

Doctors warned that pressure on hospitals was rising in the country of 4.2 million people.

Croatian officials said after a government meeting that they were monitoring the situation and ordered an extension of intensive and emergency care capacity.

They blamed the surge on the highly contagious delta variant of the virus and low interest among residents in getting vaccinated.

“The best measure against the virus remains vaccination,” Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic said.

In neighboring Slovenia, the official STA news agency said the situation “appears to be slipping out of control with hospitals filling up fast” after a new record of 4,511 daily infections was reported Thursday.

Authorities said 44% of the 10,156 PCR tests performed Wednesday returned positive.

Hospitals in the nation of 2 million already have scraped non-urgent interventions to make space for COVID-19 patients.

The country has introduced COVID-19 passes for working population but the government has said surging infections could force a lockdown.

Serbia’s government crisis team for the pandemic was set to meet Thursday as medical experts urged a 10-day lockdown and requiring COVID passes for all indoor venues rather than only to enter restaurants and bars after 10 p.m., which is the case now.

Serbian government officials have been reluctant to tighten pandemic regulations, saying they want to focus on getting more people vaccinated.

In Serbia, as in Slovenia, vaccination rates have stood at just over 50 per cent while the coronavirus has raged for weeks.

Serbia, a country of 7 million people, has reported more than 1 million cases and over 10,000 deaths since the start of the pandemic.

Slovakia also had a record number of new cases in 24 hours.

Authorities reported 6,713 new cases Thursday, eclipsing the previous record of 6,315 from Dec.30, 2020.

Slovakia has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the European Union, with slightly more than 2.4 million people in the nation of 5.4 million fully vaccinated.

The government said it would extend already tight restrictions to almost half of the country next week.

Starting Monday, 36 of the country’s 79 counties will need to close hotels, bars, restaurants, and fitness, wellness and aquatic centers.

Public gatherings in those counties will be limited to 100 fully vaccinated people.

It will be mandatory to wear face coverings both indoors and outdoors.

In the neighboring Czech Republic, the day-to-day increase reached more than 9,000 cases for the second day on Wednesday, the highest numbers since March.

The number of hospitalised people almost doubled in the 19 days.

last ten days, reaching 2,300 Wednesday.

“We’re in a quite serious situation,” Health Minister Adam Vojtech said Thursday.

“The only solution for the situation is vaccination.”

Cases also are rising in Poland and Hungary, while a weeks-long surge persisted in Bulgaria.

Poland reported more than 15,000 new cases in the nation of 38 million, and 250 deaths, numbers last seen in April.

Nearly 53 per cent of Poland’s population is fully vaccinated.

Hungary said 107 people died from COVID-19 between Wednesday and Thursday, the highest daily total since May 5.

Authorities confirmed 6,268 new infections, roughly 2.5 times more than last Thursday.

Bulgaria on Thursday reported 4,922 new cases, and authorities said 86 per cent involved unvaccinated people.

Only 28.5 per cent of Bulgaria’s population of 7 million has been fully vaccinated, the lowest rates in the European Union.

Meanwhile, top officials at the World Health Organization said Thursday that Europe has seen a more than 50% jump in coronavirus cases in the last month, making it the epicenter of the pandemic despite an ample supply of vaccines.

“There may be plenty of vaccine available, but uptake of vaccine has not been equal,” WHO emergencies chief Dr. Michael Ryan said during a press briefing on Thursday.

He called for European authorities to “close the gap” in vaccinations.

However, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said countries that have immunized more than 40 per cent of their populations should stop and instead donate their doses to developing countries that have yet to offer their citizens a first dose.

“No more boosters should be administered except to immuno-compromised people,” Tedros said.

More than 60 countries have started giving booster doses to combat waning immunity before winter, when another COVID-19 wave is expected.

In the United States, children ages 5 to 11 started getting COVID-19 shots this week after authorities decided the benefits outweighed the risks.

Earlier on Thursday, the director of WHO’s 53-country Europe region, Dr.

Hans Kluge, said the rising COVID-19 case counts are of “grave concern.”

“Europe is back at the epicenter of the pandemic, where we were one year ago,” Kluge said.

He warned that coronavirus hospitalization rates more than doubled in the last week and predicted that on that trajectory, the region could see another 500,000 pandemic deaths by February, he said.

WHO Europe says the region, which stretches as far east as the former Soviet republics in Central Asia, tallied nearly 1.8 million new weekly cases, an increase of about 6% from the previous week, and 24,000 COVID-19 weekly deaths, a 12% gain.

Kluge said the countries in the region were at “varying stages of vaccination rollout” and that regionwide an average of 47% of people were fully vaccinated.

Only eight countries had 70% of their populations fully vaccinated.

The increase in Europe’s COVID-19 marks the fifth consecutive week cases have risen across the continent, making it the only world region where COVID-19 is still increasing.

The infection rate was by far the highest in Europe, which reported some 192 new cases per 100,000 people.

Sweden’s chief epidemiologist, Anders Tegnell, said Thursday that “we are clearly in another wave,” and added that “the increased spread is entirely concentrated in Europe.”

Several countries in Central and Eastern Europe have seen daily case numbers shoot up in recent weeks.

At an online briefing Thursday by the Amsterdam-based European Medicines Agency, experts urged people to get vaccinated.

“The epidemiological situation in Europe is very concerning now as we head into the winter with increases in infection rates, hospitalization and we can also see the increase in fatalities,” said Fergus Sweeney, the EMA’s head of clinical studies and manufacturing task force.

He stressed that “it’s very important that everybody gets vaccinated or completes their dose of vaccination if they’ve already had a first dose but not a second dose. It’s really important that we’re all vaccinated because we are not all protected until everyone is protected in that respect.”

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