It may be summer, but the pandemic is far from over.
It may be summer, but the pandemic is far from over. Pandemic fatigue has taken a toll on our collective mental health, and it is only natural that people want to relax after what has been a challenging time for everybody.
However, we were in this position last summer. When restrictions were eased too quickly we saw a devastating rise in cases and deaths across the Region that led us back into lockdowns. Now, after over a year of pressure on our health systems, schooling, livelihoods, economies, physical and mental health, we cannot afford to make the same mistake.
Although vaccination continues apace across the Region, a large proportion of the population remains unvaccinated, while highly transmissible variants of concern are circulating. At the same time, we are seeing an easing of public health and social measures leading to an increase in COVID-19 cases; where vaccination rates are not high, especially among the most vulnerable, that translates into increased hospitalizations, stretched health systems – and lost lives.
This year, while we want people to make the most of summer, we urge caution to make the summer safer for everybody, to stop more people becoming unnecessarily sick and dying, and to bring this pandemic to an end sooner.
We can do this in a number of ways: Firstly, get fully vaccinated. Secondly, if you want to travel, assess whether it is necessary. If you decide to travel, do it safely.
Travelling safely means measuring our exposure to COVID-19, from the moment we leave the house to the time we reach our destination. Everyone should be their own risk manager, assessing risks and identifying protective measures at every step, such as physical distancing, avoiding crowds and wearing a mask.
Avoid the three C’s: closed, confined and crowded settings. Making sure we meet people outdoors or in open, well-ventilated settings helps protects us and reduces possibility of virus transmission.
It is crucial that we do not allow major sports tournaments and festivals to become super spreader events for the virus by enhancing public health and social measures when events take place.
Vaccines are already having an impact and have an even greater promise to reduce hospitalizations, deaths and pressure on health care systems. Yet, millions more vaccines are needed to reach those at most risk, many of whom are still waiting for their first dose. Health workers, older people and those with underlying risk factors must be given access to vaccines if we are to see a continued decline in hospitalizations and deaths.
Currently, 37%* of the population in the European Region has received one dose, while 23.9% are fully vaccinated. The data is clear – the pandemic is not over, not even in countries that have reached a high vaccination coverage. Vaccine inequity across the Region remains one of our biggest challenges.
The more transmissible Delta variant is causing an increase in cases and hospitalizations. It is therefore vital to use the tools at our disposal to prevent transmission and save lives, tailor public health and social measures to the local contexts and ensure equitable, rapid vaccination.
All vaccines with WHO Emergency Use Listing are safe and effective in preventing severe COVID-19 disease, also against the variants in circulation.
We are often asked when this pandemic will end. The short answer is that it is up to you. That it is in the hands of individuals and governments. We know what works; we have the evidence. Have hope. Protecting yourself and others is crucial to bringing this pandemic under control – and eventually, to end it.
We have come far and endured. We cannot drop our guard now.
The WHO publication "10 tips for a safe and fun summer" in Russian can be downloaded here.
Dr Masoud Dara, Special Representative of WHO Regional Director to Belarus
Dr Hans Henri P. Kluge, WHO Regional Director for Europe