Covid-19 toll tops 1.5 million in Europe: AFP tally

More than 1.5 million people have died from Covid-19 in Europe since the coronavirus pandemic began, an AFP tally of official data showed Thursday as several countries reintroduce measures to try to stem the spread.

As of 1000 GMT, the official death toll stood at 1,500,105 in a combined 52 countries since the first fatality was recorded in the region in February 2020, the data showed.

The figures are based on daily reports provided by each country’s health authorities. They exclude revisions made by other statistical organisations, which show that the number of deaths is much higher. 

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that the pandemic’s overall toll could be two to three times higher than official records, due to the excess mortality that is directly and indirectly linked to Covid-19.

According to official statistics, Russia is the worst-affected country with 269,057 deaths, but national statistical agency Rosstat estimated the nation’s death toll at almost 450,000 by the end of September using broader criteria.

Russia has also registered almost 30 percent of Europe’s new daily deaths and an average of 1,246 new fatalities per day.

Britain with 144,286 and Italy with 133,415 follow Russia with Europe’s next highest death tolls.

The deteriorating situation prompted Austria to enter a partial lockdown this week and violent protests erupted in Belgium and the Netherlands over tougher coronavirus restrictions.

The WHO this week warned Europe might suffer around half a million extra deaths during winter and urged measures including wearing masks, practising social distancing and expanding vaccination programmes.

But vaccination rates remain particularly low in eastern Europe, with Bulgaria, Bosnia, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Hungary and the Czech Republic suffering some of the world’s highest death numbers relative to their populations.

The number of new deaths has been rising since mid-July, with an average of 4,210 recorded per day in the last week.

Infections last reached those levels in autumn 2020, as Europe entered a deadly second wave going into winter and before mass vaccination campaigns had started.

But the rate of increase in cases is markedly different. The number of new deaths rose fourfold in the 20 weeks between mid-July and the week of November 18 to November 24, when 29,500 were recorded.

In comparison, it took only five weeks for weekly Covid-related fatalities to jump from 7,000 to 30,000 last year as no vaccines were available to offer protection.

Infections have been increasing in Europe since early October. Officially recorded new cases reached a daily average of 369,915 between November 18 and November 24, a 14-percent increase on the preceding week.

A large number of less severe or asymptomatic cases remain undetected, despite intensified testing since the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020.