By Michael Fitzpatrick

The World Health Organisation has sharply criticised Europe’s “unacceptably slow” vaccine rollout and said the surge in the European coronavirus infection rate is “worrying”.

Hans Kluge, WHO director for Europe

“Vaccines present our best way out of this pandemic… However, the rollout of these vaccines is unacceptably slow” and is “prolonging the pandemic”, WHO director for Europe Hans Kluge said in a statement.

“We must speed up the process by increasing manufacturing capacity, reducing barriers to administering vaccines, and using every single vial we have in stock, now,” he added.

He went on to say that Europe’s virus situation was “more worrying than we have seen in several months”.

Five weeks ago, the weekly number of new cases in Europe had dipped to under one million, but “last week saw increasing transmission of Covid-19 in the majority of countries in the WHO European region, with 1.6 million new cases,” the Kluge statement continues.

Danger of new variants emerging

The total number of deaths in Europe “is fast approaching one million and the total number of cases about to surpass 45 million”.

The WHO’s European region comprises 53 countries and territories and includes Russia and several Central Asian nations.

The organisation warned that the rapid spread of the virus could increase the risk of new variants developing.

“The likelihood of new variants occurring increases with the rate at which the virus is replicating and spreading, so curbing transmission through basic disease control actions is crucial,” Dorit Nitzan, WHO Europe’s regional emergency director, said in the statement.