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Covid is surging in Europe. Experts say it’s a warning for the U.S.
Eastern Europe's deadly Covid-19 surge is a warning of the dangers of low vaccine uptake, experts say.
As Europe finds itself at the epicenter of the Covid-19 pandemic once again, experts say it should serve as a “warning” to the U.S. and other countries about the virus’ “unremitting” nature.
Countries across the continent have seen cases soar. October saw a rise of more than 50 percent, and the worrying trend has continued this month as winter begins to bite.
Dr. Hans Kluge, the director of the World Health Organization’s Europe region, on Nov. 4 warned the region was "back at the epicenter of the pandemic," and his words proved prescient.
On Friday, the World Health Organization said nearly 2 million cases were reported across Europe in the week prior — the most the region has seen in a single week since the pandemic began.
In recent weeks, Germany reported record daily numbers of new infections with more than 50,000, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
The Netherlands also reported more than 16,000 cases — the country’s highest number since the pandemic began, prompting the government to begin a partial lockdown on Saturday which is set to last at least three weeks.
As cases surged towards the end of last month Belgium reimposed some Covid restrictions, including a requirement for masks in public places. The country’s Covid-19 pass also has to be shown to enter bars, restaurants and fitness clubs. The passport shows you are either fully vaccinated, have had a recent negative test or have recently recovered from the disease.
The country nonetheless recorded more than 15,000 daily cases on Monday.
Despite the surge, daily death rates in all three countries have remained relatively stable compared with past spikes, and experts have credited high vaccine uptake for weakening the link between the number of cases and hospitalizations and deaths.
"Luckily, the high vaccination coverage limits the death toll and hospitalizations there to a large extent," Tom Wenseleers, an evolutionary biologist and biostatistician at the KU Leuven university in Belgium, told NBC News in an email Wednesday.
Belgium, which reported hundreds of deaths at the start of the pandemic and then again last autumn when a second wave of cases forced a national lockdown, has seen "hospital capacity tested" in recent weeks, Wenseleers said. But overall deaths appear to have largely been decoupled from high case rates, he added.
However, the same cannot be said for countries in Eastern Europe, where he said the situation was "truly disastrous."
Over the last three weeks, Romania, with 591; Bulgaria, with 334; and Latvia, with 64, have all reported record high daily deaths, according to Johns Hopkins data. Case numbers have also surged.
Calling this "worrying," Wenseleers said he believed low vaccine uptake and high vaccine hesitancy were largely to blame.
"It’s not due to lack of vaccines," he said, noting the joint procurement of vaccines at the European Union level meant all 27 member states "were able to buy equivalent quantities of vaccines."
"Despite having access to vaccines, those countries did not manage to convince their population to get vaccinated," he added.