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The WHO warns of a turning level within the Covid pandemic and says that Europe is prone to be within the "most acute" part of the virus unfold

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A nurse adjusts her PPE in the intensive care unit at St. George & # 39; s Hospital in Tooting, South West London, where the number of intensive care beds for the critically ill had to be increased from 60 to 120, the vast majority of them being those for coronavirus patients .

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LONDON – The World Health Organization on Thursday warned of a turning point in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic amid mounting fears about more infectious variants of the virus, which have led to a rapid surge in infections.

Countries are trying to include two variants in the UK and South Africa that are significantly more transmissible and public health experts are concerned about the potential impact on vaccination efforts.

While the variants spread more easily, there is no clear evidence that the mutated viruses are associated with more severe disease outcomes. However, being more communicable means more people can become infected, and that could mean more serious infections and more deaths.

In recent weeks, optimism about the mass rollout of Covid-19 vaccines appears to have been tempered by the resurgent rate of spread of the virus.

"We were prepared for a challenging start to 2021 and that was exactly what we were looking for," said Dr. Hans Kluge, WHO Regional Director for Europe, in an online press conference.

"This moment marks a turning point in the course of the pandemic where science, politics, technology and values ​​must form a united front to drive back this persistent and elusive virus."

"We are right in the middle"

A year after the Health Department's first report on Covid-19, Kluge reflected the fact that the WHO European Region had more than 26 million Covid cases and over 580,000 deaths in 2020.

Several countries in Europe have introduced national lockdown measures in the past few days. More are expected to follow in the coming week to ease pressure on already overburdened healthcare facilities.

View of an almost deserted city center on December 15, 2020 in Amsterdam, Netherlands.

Niels Wenstedt | BSR agency | Getty Images News | Getty Images

As of Wednesday, nearly half of all countries and territories in Europe had a seven-day incidence of over 150 new cases per 100,000 population. The WHO estimated that more than 25% of them reported "very high" incidence rates and stressed health systems.

"I have to say that we are very right in the middle of it right now. We are not just in the middle of it, we are probably in the most acute phase of transmission in the European region and we continue to see (a) a really big impact on hospital wards," said Dr. Catherine Smallwood, Senior Emergency Officer at WHO Europe, during the online briefing.

"To change any of this, we really need to reduce transmission and control the spread despite the introduction of vaccinations," said Smallwood.

The European Commission on Wednesday issued final approval for the use of the Covid vaccine developed by the US company Moderna.

It was the second vaccine to be approved by the EU executive, with the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine having previously received the green light.

The EU, which launched its vaccination program on December 27, has been criticized for slowly introducing shocks across the bloc.

Attempts are being made to catch up with Israel and the US, where large numbers of people have already been vaccinated against the virus.

To date, according to the WHO, Europe has registered 27.5 million confirmed Covid cases and 603,563 deaths.

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Katherine Clark