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Europe's excess death figures paint grim Covid-19 picture

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Measures: Students’ temperatures are checked as they arrive at Axular Lizeoa school in San Sebastian after the reopening of schools in Spain’s Basque Country. PHOTO: AFP

Measures: Students’ temperatures are checked as they arrive at Axular Lizeoa school in San Sebastian after the reopening of schools in Spain’s Basque Country. PHOTO: AFP

Measures: Students’ temperatures are checked as they arrive at Axular Lizeoa school in San Sebastian after the reopening of schools in Spain’s Basque Country. PHOTO: AFP

Europe has suffered more than 159,000 excess deaths since early March, the head of the World Health Organisation's regional office has said.

Despite a surge in cases in Latin America, dubbed the 'new epicentre' of the pandemic, Europe still accounts for half of all deaths worldwide and a third of confirmed coronavirus cases.

To date, roughly two million people have been infected and more than 175,000 have died on the continent after contracting the virus.

"Perhaps a less reported, but equally alarming figure is that since early March, more than 159,000 excess deaths, coinciding with the pandemic, have been reported from 24 European countries," Dr Hans Kluge, director of WHO Europe, said yesterday.

Excess deaths is a measure of the number of people who have died during a crisis, irrespective of the cause, compared with that expected under 'normal' conditions.

In the UK, figures published by the Office for National Statistics earlier this week revealed that excess deaths since the beginning of March have now surpassed 60,000 - a figure second only to the US.

According to Dr Kluge, Britain is still leading in terms of new infections in Europe, along with Russia, Turkey and Belarus.

Dr Catherine Smallwood, a senior emergency officer at WHO Europe, said the timing of the continent's excess death toll pointed to the deadly impact of Covid-19.

"What we have seen very clearly is that the peak in excess mortality corresponds in those countries to the peak of the transmission of Covid-19," Dr Smallwood said.

"This gives us a very good indication that a very significant proportion of this excess death [figure] is linked and due to Covid-19."

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She added that countries should not ease control measures without having robust contract tracing systems in place, to help prevent a "second wave" of infections.

Meanwhile, Spaniards have been warned against throwing parties and hugging people, after a birthday gathering was partly blamed for a regional resurgence in coronavirus cases.

According to local officials, four people who were already infected with Covid-19 attended the party earlier this month in Lleida, Catalonia, leading to all 20 attendees testing positive.

In phase one of Spain's lockdown exit plan, social gatherings had to be limited to 10 people and those who did not cohabit were asked to respect the two-metre social distance.

"We are all desperate to enjoy gatherings with our families," said Fernando Simon, head of the Spanish health ministry's Covid-19 emergency department, when asked about the Lleida birthday party.

"An innocent little party can lead to an outbreak that can spark another wave."

As millions prepared for the first weekend since Spain's lockdown was eased in the cities of Madrid and Barcelona, health experts insisted on the importance of social distancing, even on festive occasions.

Dr Simon said hugs and kisses were best avoided, partly due to the risk involved in contact, and also because it breached the psychological barrier that helped maintain social distancing.

If people must hug, "let it be as brief as possible", Dr Simon said.

Visit our Covid-19 vaccine dashboard for updates on the roll out of the vaccination program and the rate of Coronavirus cases Ireland


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