The COVID-19 Delta variant is now dominant in much of Europe, the World Health Organization (WHO) has said.
The WHO and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) has warned that efforts to prevent the spread of the variant must be reinforced.
On average, over 68% of COVID-19 infections in the majority of European countries were the highly contagious Delta variant, which first emerged in India.
“The SARS-COV-2 Delta variant of concern is moving fast across Europe and has now become the most dominant strain across much of the region, based on new data,” WHO Europe said in a statement.
“Based on current trends the Delta variant will be the globally dominant strain over the coming months and has already been identified in almost all European countries.”
“It will continue to spread, displacing the circulation of other variants unless a new more competitive virus emerges.”
WHO added that new confirmed cases of COVID-19 have risen across Europe in each of the past four weeks, and have urged countries once again to step up their vaccination programmes.
“We are far from out of the woods in terms of the pandemic ending and sadly in many countries in our region we’re seeing a significant rise in cases associated with the spread of the highly transmissible Delta variant,” said Dr Hans Kluge, WHO’s Regional Director for Europe.
“Despite tremendous efforts by the Member States to vaccinate people across the region, millions more remain unvaccinated and therefore at risk of ending up in hospital.
“The good news is that the data clearly shows that receiving a full vaccination series significantly reduces the risk of severe disease and death. When called to do so, people should get vaccinated.”
Dr Kluge also urged those countries that have eased public health restrictions to improve access to free testing and strengthen contact tracing.
“We need to remain vigilant and continue to use common sense to prevent the spread of the virus,” added the ECDC Director, Dr Andrea Ammon.
“This means getting a full course of vaccination as soon as the opportunity arises and maintaining physical distancing, washing hands, avoiding crowded spaces, and wearing a mask when necessary.”
“We should think of these as ‘anti-lockdown measures’ because they can help prevent the spread of disease without having to shut down large parts of society.”