Europe no longer 'epicentre' of coronavirus pandemic, says WHO

People wearing protective face masks walk at the Trocadero square near the Eiffel Tower in Paris as France reinforces mask-wearing as part of efforts to curb a resurgence of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) across the country, August 9, 2020. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier
The epicentre of the coronavirus pandemic has shifted away from Europe, according to the WHO. (Reuters)

Europe is no longer the ‘epicentre’ of the coronavirus pandemic, the World Health Organization (WHO) has said.

In an update on Thursday, WHO regional director for Europe Hans Kluge said Europe currently has a registered 3.9 million cases - making up 17% of the global total of nearly 22 million cases.

In March the WHO declared Europe the epicentre of the coronavirus pandemic, as it ravaged countries across the continent.

But in the latest update, Kluge described how the focus of the virus has shifted.

“The epicentre of the pandemic is now in the Americas but other regions are also seeing a steep rise in cases,” he said.

“The European Region is on a trajectory of its own, showing a different trend compared to the rest of the world. The virus hit Europe early and hard.”

Kluge warned of the dangers of a resurgence of COVID-19, saying in the last two months new cases had been steadily rising in Europe, with 40,000 more cases in the first week of August compared to the first week of June.

His comments come after Britain added several countries to its quarantine list following a rise in cases, including France, the Netherlands and Malta.

Kluge said the rise in cases was due in part to a relaxation of social distancing measures, and also due to people “dropping their guard”.

He outlined challenges that lie ahead, including the reopening of schools, and the impending flu season in winter, adding that young people are at the “forefront” of the COVID-19 response.

“According to a recent study, globally among those aged 15-24, cases of COVID-19 have increased from a rate of 4.5% at the end of February to 15% in mid-July,” he said. “Low risk does not mean no risk.”

“No-one is invincible and if you do not die from #COVID19, it may stick with your body like a tornado with a long tail.

“While young people are less likely to die than older people, they can still be very seriously affected. This virus affects organs throughout the body, but especially the lungs and heart, with some young and fit people, including elite athletes, suffering considerably.”

He urged young people to play their part to limit the spread of coronavirus, including wearing masks, avoiding big crowds and washing their hands, saying: “spread fun, but do not spread the virus”.

His comments echo previous warnings from the WHO about young people spreading coronavirus.

Earlier this month the WHO said that young people going to nightclubs and beaches had led to a rise in new coronavirus cases across the globe, with the proportion of those aged 15 to 24 who were infected tripling from 4.5% to 15% in about five months.

Coronavirus: what happened today
Click here to sign up to the latest news and information with our daily Catch-up newsletter