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COVID-19

Pandemic in Europe won’t be over until 70 percent are vaccinated, says WHO

The WHO's European director warned Friday that the Covid-19 pandemic won't end until at least 70 percent of people are vaccinated, and criticised Europe's vaccine rollout as "too slow".

Pandemic in Europe won't be over until 70 percent are vaccinated, says WHO
A French red cross member administers a dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine to a woman at the Covid-19 vaccination centre Paris La Defense Arena in Nanterre, west of Paris on the opening day on May 3, 2021. Photo: BERTRAND GUAY / AFP

The World Health Organisation’s regional director for Europe Hans Kluge said countries and their populations must not become complacent about the pandemic.

“Don’t think the Covid-19 pandemic is over,” Kluge told AFP in an interview, while adding that vaccination rates needed to increase.

“The pandemic will be over once we reach 70 percent minimum coverage in vaccination,” the regional director said.

In the 53 countries and territories that make up the WHO’s European region — including several in Central Asia —  26 percent of the population has received a first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine.

In the European Union, 36.6 percent of the population has received at least one dose and 16.9 percent have been fully vaccinated, according to a count by AFP.

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Kluge said one of his main concerns was the increased contagiousness of new variants.

“We know, for example, that the B.1617 (Indian variant) is more transmissible than the B.117 (British variant), which was already more transmissible than the previous strain,” Kluge noted.

Cases of the so-called Indian variant have been recorded in 27 of the region’s 53 countries, while the number of new cases, and deaths, has fallen for five consecutive weeks, reaching their lowest levels since mid-October.

Speed essential
Worldwide, new cases have dropped for four weeks in a row, according to an AFP tally.

But while vaccines have proven effective against coronavirus mutations, people must still be vigilant, Kluge emphasised.

The Belgian doctor said a major concern was that “people drop their guards, that they become complacent,” especially going into the summer months.

In addition, large gatherings are on the horizon in conjunction with the European football championship.

“Let’s finally give Covid-19 the red card, don’t allow extra time for Covid-19,” Kluge quipped, repeating advice to maintain social distances and wear face masks.

He also underscored that speed is “of essence” during the pandemic.

“Our best friend is speed, time is working against us, (and) the vaccination rollout is still going too slowly,” Kluge said.
 
“We need to accelerate, we need to enlarge the number of vaccines,” and European countries needed to show more solidarity, he said.

“It is not acceptable that some countries are starting to vaccinate the younger, healthy part of the population, while other countries in our region have still not covered all the health care workers and the most vulnerable people,” he added.

Member comments

  1. hope people can memorize this claim, im really looking forward to whats going to happen when we reach 70%.

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ECONOMY

From inflation to Covid: What to expect from Austria’s winter season

Austria’s lucrative winter season has already been hit by pandemic restrictions for the past two years. But this year there is also record inflation, staff shortages and an energy crisis to deal with.

From inflation to Covid: What to expect from Austria's winter season

The winter season in Austria is a big driver of the country’s economy and has been hit hard by Covid-19 restrictions for the past two winters.

But this year the industry faces an even bigger crisis – a combination of rising inflation, concerns over energy supplies, staff shortages and the pandemic (because it’s not over yet).

We took a closer look to find out how these issues could impact the industry and what we could expect from this year’s winter season in Austria.

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Inflation

Winter sports is a big guzzler of energy to operate ski lifts, apres ski venues and snow making machines. 

This means the industry is in a vulnerable position as energy prices rise, with some resort operators already confirming they will have to pass on some costs to customers.

Johann Roth, Managing Director at Präbichl in Styria, said that energy costs at the resort have tripled and admitted he is concerned about the coming winter season.

Roth told the Kronen Zeitung: “Of course we will have to increase the ticket prices, and to an extent that has never been seen in recent years.”

READ MORE: Cost of living: Why are restaurants getting more expensive in Austria?

At Planai ski resort in Schladming, Styria, Director Georg Bliem said they aim to keep the day ticket price under €70, but has also set up an energy task force to find cost-saving measures for this year. 

Suggestions for Planai include narrower slopes, reduced snowmaking capabilities, shorter cable car operating times and even a delayed start to the season.

Electricity costs at Planaibahn (the resort’s ski lift and gondola operator) were already at €3 million before the current energy crisis, according to the Kronen Zeitung.

Then there are hospitality businesses and hotels at ski resorts that are also being hit by rising costs.

As a result, the Kurier reports that room prices in overnight accommodation could increase by a further 15 percent in winter, and many people will no longer be able to afford skiing holidays.

Heating may be an issue in winter as the energy crisis looms (Photo by Achudh Krishna on Unsplash)

Energy

Rising prices are just one element of the energy crisis as there are fears that Austria will not have enough gas for the coming winter season – mostly due to the war in Ukraine.

In March, Austria activated the early warning system – which is the first level of a three-step emergency plan – for the country’s gas supply. If it reaches step three (emergency level), energy control measures will be put in place across the country.

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How this would impact ski resorts is unknown, but at the emergency level, households, essential industries and infrastructure would be prioritised for energy.

So far, there is no indication that step two (alert level) will be activated and the European Aggregated Gas Storage Inventory recently confirmed that Austria’s gas storage capacity was 60 percent full

Austria’s goal is to reach 80 percent capacity by November 1st in order to have a safety reserve.

However, Energy Minister Leonore Gewessler already appealed to businesses and households in July to start saving energy where possible.

Staff shortages

Ever since Austria (and Europe) started opening up after Covid-19 lockdowns, the hospitality and tourism industries have been struggling to find staff.

In fact, shortly before the start of the summer season in Austria, there were 30,000 open job vacancies in the tourism sector. And the Wiener Zeitung recently reported on how restaurants in Vienna are struggling to keep up with customer demand due to staff shortages. 

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The issue is even being discussed in parliament and it has already been made easier for seasonal workers in Austria to access residency through changes to the Red-White-Red card. 

Now, there are expectations of similar staff shortages for the winter season, which could cause further stress for ski resort operators.

Covid-19

Back in July, it was reported that the federal government was working on a Covid-19 contingency plan to get the country through another autumn and winter.

It envisages four scenarios – numbered from the best to the worst case. In the best case scenario, Austrians can live free of any pandemic rules. In the second best scenario, the situation will remain as it is (find out more about Austria’s latest Covid-19 rules here).

In scenario three, if new variants lead to more severe illness, the mask requirement will be expanded and more testing will be carried out.

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There could even be night-time curfews, entry tests and restrictions on private meetings. In addition, major events could be stopped from taking place and nightclubs closed.

Scenario four, the worst case scenario, would mean vaccination no longer offered protection and hospitals became overwhelmed, leading to severe restrictions on people’s social lives.

From what we’ve seen over the past two winters, scenarios three and four would likely impact winter sports operations. But to what degree would depend on the severity of the situation.

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