The World Health Organization’s office for Europe said on Tuesday that children aged 5 to 14 now had the highest rates of COVID-19 infection reported in the region.
WHO Regional Director for Europe Dr Hans Kluge also argued that vaccination mandates should be “an absolute last resort”, and said deaths from COVID-19 remain “significantly lower to previous peaks “. But he said coronavirus cases and deaths have more than doubled in the past two months in the 53-country region stretching to Central Asia.
He highlighted the continued threat of the widespread delta variant, and noted that the new omicron variant has so far accounted for 432 confirmed cases in 21 countries in the region.
“The delta variant remains dominant in Europe and Central Asia, and we know that COVID-19 vaccines remain effective in reducing serious illness and resulting deaths,” he told reporters from headquarters. WHO Europe in Copenhagen. “It remains to be seen how and if the latest worrying variant of COVID-19, omicron, will be more communicable, or more or less severe.”
Kluge urged countries to “protect children and schools” amid the rapid rise in cases among the region’s youth, and said the incidence of COVID-19 was two to three times higher among younger children than the average population in some places. Children tend to face milder cases than more vulnerable populations such as the elderly, healthcare workers, and people with weaker immune systems.
“As the school holidays approach, we must also recognize that children infect their parents and grandparents at home, with a 10 times higher risk for these adults of developing a serious illness, of being hospitalized or of dying. if they are not vaccinated, âhe said. “The health risks extend beyond the children themselves.”
Kluge has also spoken out against vaccination warrants, saying they should be an “absolute last resort” and only be effective in certain settings.
The WHO European region has been the global epicenter of the pandemic for weeks, accounting for 70% of cases and 61% of deaths worldwide, according to the United Nations health agency’s weekly epidemiological report released this week. last.
The update from Europe came as public health experts and governments around the world wondered how to handle the increase in gatherings and expected travel during the holiday season.
The stream20:01Travel restrictions “could change at any time,” says Transport Minister Omar Alghabra
-From The Associated Press, last updated at 10:50 a.m. ET
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As of early afternoon as of Tuesday, more than 266.7 million cases of COVID-19 have been reported worldwide, according to a case tracking site run by Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. The death toll worldwide stood at over 5.2 million.
In Europe, thousands of Belgian health workers gathered in Brussels on Tuesday to oppose compulsory COVID-19 vaccines and demand better working conditions as an upsurge in new cases weighs heavily on hospitals.
According to the police in the Belgian capital, around 4,000 people – some with signs saying “Save your nurse, one day she will save you” or “My body, my choice” – took part in the march.
The loud rally ended in front of the Belgian Ministry of Health, where police at one point used pepper spray to ward off some protesters. There were no reports of injuries.
From January 1, healthcare workers in Belgium will have a three-month window to get vaccinated against the coronavirus. Those who are not vaccinated will be informed that their contracts will be suspended, unless they provide a certificate proving their recovery from COVID-19 or a recent negative test.
From April, those who did not have a valid justification for refusing to comply could be dismissed. By some estimates, around 60,000 health workers across the country of 11.5 million people are not vaccinated against COVID-19.
Meanwhile, Sweden is set to reintroduce a series of measures to curb the rise in COVID-19 infections and urge further social distancing and the use of masks on public transport, the government said on Tuesday. .
“We are seeing increased spread of infection, but still from low levels,” Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said at a press conference. “We have to work together so that the situation does not worsen, so today we are presenting new precautionary measures.”
Cases in Sweden have started to increase in recent weeks after a relatively calm autumn. Hospitalizations and the number of patients requiring intensive care are still among the lowest per capita in Europe but have also started to increase.
In the Americas, Mexico City officials will begin offering a third dose of the COVID-19 vaccine to residents over the age of 60 on Tuesday, officials said, as part of a government plan to roll out booster shots.
In Africa, Uganda has its first seven cases of the omicron variant of the coronavirus, a health official confirmed on Tuesday. Director of Clinical Services Charles Olaro said the variant was detected in travelers from South Africa and Nigeria who arrived in Uganda on November 29.
“We have already informed them of their status and they are already isolated,” he said.
Olaro said the first tests carried out on travelers after arriving at Entebbe International Airport showed them to be positive for the coronavirus and further testing has confirmed the new variant.
In the Asia Pacific region, Thailand reported 3,525 new COVID-19 cases and 31 additional deaths on Tuesday. The update came as health officials reported that people who had come in close contact with the country’s first confirmed case of omicron – an American traveler – have now tested negative for COVID-19, according to local media.
In the Middle EastIran reported 3,514 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday with 79 additional deaths.
-From Reuters, The Associated Press and CBC News, last updated 12:05 p.m. ET