Another 700,000 Europeans could die from Covid this winter, the World Health Organization warned today.
WHO officials suggested the continent’s death toll was set to spiral from 1.5million to 2.2million by March amid a ferocious fourth wave.
This figure includes 53 countries in Europe, including EU member states, the UK, Kazakhstan and Russia, among others.
If this prediction is correct, it means that Europe is facing a winter only slightly better than last year, despite vaccines now being widely available.
Bodies are already ‘piling up’ on hospital wards in Romania, with Bucharest’s main hospital morgue now almost three-times over-capacity.
The WHO said the new wave of the Indian ‘Delta’ variant, vaccine scepticism and relaxing Covid restrictions were to blame for its gloomy prediction.
Some 66 per cent of people in the European Union are already double-jabbed, and many countries are now rolling out booster doses.
Surging cases have also sent several nations scuttling back into lockdowns and tighter restrictions to curb the spread of the virus.
Liberal schools in Germany whose adherents believe diseases are challenges to be overcome naturally have been blamed for worsening outbreaks in the country’s southern regions.
It comes after an AstraZeneca boss suggested that Europe’s hospitalisations are surging because it was slow to roll out their jab to older age groups, unlike the UK.
But scientists say Europe’s fresh wave is likely due to a number of other reasons, including slower booster roll outs, longer lockdowns in the summer and shorter vaccine dosing intervals.
In a sign of a growing crisis the Netherlands today began moving Covid patients to Germany to help ease pressure on its hospitals.
The above graph shows daily Covid cases per million people across several countries in Europe
And this graph shows the cumulative deaths per million people in selected European countries. It reveals that Belgium, Italy and Poland have all suffered a higher proportion of Covid deaths than the UK
WHO officials said Covid deaths in Europe had already doubled since September to some 4,200 a day.
And that the virus was now the leading cause of death on the continent, citing a report by the US-based Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.
Its regional director for Europe Dr Hans Kluge called on European nations to take a ‘vaccine plus’ approach and impose more restrictions including face masks, social distancing and regular hand washing.
Netherlands flies Covid patients to Germany
The Netherlands has started transporting Covid patients to Germany to ease pressure on its hospitals.
Local health officials said this morning a patient suffering from the virus was moved 150 miles by ambulance from Rotterdam to Bochum, in Rhine-Westphalia.
And a second was due to be moved later today.
Some 488 out of 1,050 intensive care beds are currently being used by Covid patients.
Hospitals are already scaling back routine services for cancer patients and heart operations.
And a third of operating theatres have been closed to make way for intensive care beds.
German hospitals have offered 20 beds for patients from the Netherlands so far, after treating dozens during previous waves of the pandemic.
He said: ‘As we approach the end of 2021, let’s do everything we can by getting vaccinated and taking personal protective measures, to avoid the last resort of lockdowns and school closures.
‘We know through bitter experience that these have extensive economic consequences and a pervasive negative impact on mental health, facilitate interpersonal violence and are detrimental to children’s well-being and learning.’
Our World in Data — an Oxford University-based research platform — says 1.38million deaths have been recorded in Europe to date.
Britain has the second-highest number of deaths in the continent at 144,000, with the most recorded in Russia at 256,000.
But when fatalities were considered by population — which experts say is a fairer comparison — Britain drops to 13th place with a rate of 2,116 deaths per million people.
Both Belgium (2,283.9) and Italy (2,205.3) have suffered more deaths from the virus per million people than the UK.
Meanwhile CNN reporters visited the morgue at Budapest University Hospital this week and found corridors piled with bodies of deceased Covid patients.
The morgue has capacity for 15 bodies, but on the day reporters attended 41 had arrived, with almost every bed in the hospital’s expanded Covid ward also filled.
Claudiu Ionita, a nurse who spoke to the outlet, said: ‘I never thought such a catastrophe could happen, that we’d end up sending whole families to their graves.’
Romania was among the first EU countries to get hammered with a winter wave of Covid thanks to its low vaccination rate, which stands at just 37 per cent.
Only one country – Bulgaria – has a lower double-jabbed rate, at 25 per cent.
That forced the government to impose a night-time curfew and make Covid health passes mandatory for access to all indoor spaces, with Interior Minister Raed Arafat saying at the time that the country was in a ‘disaster situation’.
‘We are in this situation while having the vaccine, because the majority of us refused to get inoculated. This situation could have been avoided,’ he fumed.
The number of Covid intensive care in-patients in European countries like Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and France are on the rise and heading into levels not seen since the start of the year. In comparison the UK’s number of patients requiring intensive care is levelling off
Deaths from Covid are still well below where they were during Europe’s first and second wave of infections, but are starting to rise rapidly in countries with low infection rates
The UK’s booster drive has steamed ahead of others on the continent. More than 20 per cent of Brits have now got a booster, which is almost double the level in Austria
Worsening outbreaks in Germany’s hard-hit southern regions have been blamed on schools where people believe diseases have to be overcome naturally.
It comes after an outbreak of Covid at a Steiner school, whose attendants adhere to ‘anthroposophical’ teachings of Rudolf Steiner — including that children should be taught to paint before they can speak be allowed to learn at their own pace.
Tobias Rapp, a writer for Der Spiegel who once attended a Steiner school, said the schools are their attendants are not outwardly anti-vaccine.
But he added that believers in Steiner’s teachings often see vaccines as interfering in the body’s connection with nature and will shun medical treatments in favour of more natural remedies.
Steiner schools — which also exist in the UK and charge up to £10,000-per-year for a place — have in the past been at the centre of measles outbreaks.
After a Covid outbreak at one school in the city of Freiburg in October, inspectors found 55 teachers and students were carrying certificates claiming they were exempt from wearing masks – only three of which were found to be valid.
Romanian morgues are now full to overflowing with the bodies of Covid patients, after the country – which has one of Europe’s lowest vaccine rates – was hit hard in a recent wave
Romania’s Covid infections and deaths are now falling after it went into partial shutdown and introduced vaccine passports, but morgues are struggling to catch up (file image)
It comes after the chief executive of AstraZeneca Pascal Soriot said the decision by most major EU nations to restrict jabs early in the year could explain why Britain’s neighbours are now suffering higher infection rates.
Just 67million doses have been dished out on the continent, compared to 440million Pfizer jabs even though studies show the Oxford-made jab provides longer lasting protection.
Mr Soriot told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘When you look at the UK there was a big peak of infections but not so many hospitalisations relative to Europe.
‘In the UK this vaccine was used to vaccinate older people whereas in Europe initially people thought the vaccine doesn’t work in older people.’
French President Emmanuel Macron was accused of politicising the roll out of the British-made vaccine in January when he trashed it as ‘quasi-effective’ for people over 65 and claimed the UK had rushed its approval, in what some described as Brexit bitterness.
Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel, 66, also added to initial doubts over the vaccine, stating in February she would not get the jab as her country’s vaccine regulator infamously recommended at time that those over the age of 65 should not have the jab. But Merkel did eventually get the AstraZeneca in April.
EU scepticism about the jab centred around the fact only two people over the age of 65 caught Covid in AZ’s global trials, out of 660 participants in that age group.
Although the vaccine was eventually reapproved for elderly people in France, Germany and other major EU economies, the reputational damage drove up vaccine hesitancy and led to many elderly Europeans demanding they be vaccinated with Pfizer’s jab. Some, such as Denmark and Norway, stopped using AZ for good.