The World Health Organization (WHO) has said another 500,000 people in Europe could die of COVID-19 by March next year unless urgent action is taken.
The WHO’s Europe director, Dr Hans Kluge, said he was very worried about a fresh wave of infections that had spread across the continent and led countries to announce new restrictions.
Austria announced this week that it would become the first country to legally require people to have the vaccines from February. It has the lowest vaccination rate in western Europe and recorded another 15,809 cases on Friday.
The country will go into a full lockdown for the third time on Monday until at least 12 December. Tighter restrictions have also been announced in the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
Kluge said factors such as the winter season, when there is normally an increase in viral infections, and low vaccine coverage were responsible for the increase in cases. He called for more people to get vaccinated, basic public health measures to be implemented and new treatments to be developed, but said mandatory vaccination should be the last resort.
“COVID-19 has become once again the number one cause of mortality in our region,” he told the BBC. “We know what needs to be done” to fight the disease.
Rioting erupted in the Netherlands on Friday in response to new COVID restrictions. Police opened fire on protesters and seven people were injured during a demonstration in Rotterdam.
The German health minister, Jens Spahn, said the situation in the country was a “national emergency” and would not rule out another national lockdown. Christmas markets were cancelled in the south-eastern state of Bavaria, which has some of the lowest vaccination rates in the country.
The United Kingdom’s rolling seven-day average of daily new coronavirus cases is higher than European Union (EU) countries and has been since June. Other EU members, including Ireland, Hungary, Greece and the Baltic states have higher infection rates than the UK’s, but many with high vaccination rates and stricter social distancing rules.