GENEVA (Reuters) – Fresh lockdowns in Europe are avoidable, including through near-universal mask-wearing, the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) Europe office said on Thursday.
Hans Kluge, WHO regional director for Europe, said that some health systems are being overwhelmed on the continent where more than 29,000 deaths were recorded in the past week alone.
“Europe is once again the epicentre of the pandemic, together with the United States. There is light at the end of the tunnel but it will be a six tough months,” Kluge told a news conference, speaking from Copenhagen.
“Lockdowns are avoidable, I stand by my position that lockdowns are a last resort measure. Mask use is by no means a panacea, and needs to be done in combination with other measures. However, if mask use reached 95%, lockdowns would not be needed.”
Lockdowns should be lifted safely and gradually, he added, warning about the negative impact of ‘easing too quickly’.
Primary schools should be kept open, Kluge said, adding that children and adolescents are not driving the spread of the new coronavirus known as SARS-CoV-2 and school closures are “not effective”.
Despite encouraging news in the last week about vaccines, they are “not a silver bullet because we know the supply will be limited particularly in the beginning”, he said.
WHO is in touch with the developers of Russia’s Sputnik vaccine regarding clinical trial data, he said.
(Reporting by Michael Shields, Stephanie Nebehay and Ludwig Burger; writing by Stephanie Nebehay)