Omicron threat spreading to east Europe amid low vaccine rates: WHO

Madrid Desk, Feb 15 (EFE).- A new wave of the Omicron coronavirus variant is surging through eastern Europe and the Caucasus, where vaccination rates remain relatively low, the World Health Organization warned Tuesday.

Covid-19 infections have doubled in the past two weeks in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Russia and Ukraine, WHO’s Europe regional director, Hans Kluge, said in a statement urging authorities to improve vaccination and other measures.

“Faced with the Omicron tidal wave, and with Delta still circulating widely in the east, this worrying situation is not the moment to lift measures that we know work in reducing the spread of Covid-19,” Kluge said.

He said that too many at-risk people remain unvaccinated in Bulgaria, Georgia and North Macedonia, where less than 40% of healthcare workers have received at least one dose of the vaccine.

So far, over 165 million coronavirus cases have been recorded across the WHO European region, which includes parts of Central Asia, with 25,000 deaths in the past week, according to the organization.

Kluge’s comments come as several European countries including the Czech Republic and Poland suggested they would ease restrictions next month if daily infections fall.

That is the case in Russia, where infections have been falling in the last three days.

On Tuesday, Russian authorities reported 166,631 new cases in the last 24 hours, the third consecutive day infections were under 200,000, although hospitalizations are on the rise in 80 of the country’s regions.

The Omicron variant has hit 85 of the country’s regions, but the Kremlin has ruled out imposing new restrictions.

Infections were also decreasing for the third consecutive day in Germany, where on Tuesday the seven-day incidence rate dropped to ​​1,437.5 per 100,000 people compared to 1,459.8 the previous day.

On Wednesday, chancellor Olaf Scholz will hold a meeting with regional leaders where they are expected to agree on a plan to lift restrictions from March 20.

In Italy, on the other hand, a mandate for over 50s to prove their vaccination status to enter the workplace came into force Tuesday.

The new rule could leave some 600,000 people over the age of 50 without a salary as those who fail to prove a valid certificate will be dismissed from their jobs.

Fines ranging from 600 to 1,500 euros will be given out to both employers and employees who do not adhere to the new rules. EFE


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