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In just 24h, Romania recorded as many COVID deaths as the entire EU

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One of the least vaccinated countries in Europe, Romania is battling a surge in both COVID cases and record number of deaths, unparalleled to anything else in Europe, writes Cristian Gherasim, Bucharest correspondent.

With close to 600 dead in just 24 hours alone, close to 16 000 new COVID cases each day and the second lowest vaccination rate in the EU, Romania is indeed facing a tragedy of epic proportions.

As the trend seems to have no end in sight, many were quick to liken the situation in Romania to that of Italy. Romania's fourth-wave of Covid-19 is making it the new 'Lombardy of Europe', in terms of both deaths and new infections.

The trend is so dramatic that comparisons have been made with other dramatic events in Romania’s history. The most tragic event was the Collective Club fire of 2015. The fire resulted in 64 deaths, almost nine times less than the COVID deaths recorded on Tuesday, October 19, 2021.

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At the anti-communist revolution of 1989, 1,166 Romanians died. At the beginning of the week, 561 died in just 24 hours, namely half of the victims registered during the anti-communist revolution which unfolded over a period of 5 days.

The 1977 earthquake killed 1,570 people. The 24h death rate from COVID in Romania represent one third of the victims of the worst earthquake in Romania’s recent history.

At the beginning of the month, the country's National Committee for the Coordination of Activities on Covid Vaccination (CNCAV) sent out a warning over social media about the Covid death rate and the new record of daily Covid cases. Back then, at European level, Romania was second only to Russia - a country with a population more than seven times greater - in terms of Covid deaths over the past seven days. And weekly trend puts Romania ahead of all other EU member states and sixth worldwide, as confirmed by Romania's CNCAV.

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But that was over 20 days ago. Now Romania has the highest mortality rate in the world and the figures keep growing.

Romania significantly outpaces both the European and world average. Healthcare specialists have been warning for several weeks that the next Covid wave will hit the country hardest. Epidemiology expert Alexandru Rafila said that Romania has one of the highest contagion-rates in Europe.

"We will exceed significantly the number of cases registered in wave three and this will have some dramatic consequences. The fourth wave of the pandemic will last at least until mid-November and will have a greater impact than previous ones.", the healthcare specialist said.

According to data provided by researchers at the Babes-Bolyai University, Romania was the first in the EU to lift restrictions and relax other measures, but next-to-last in terms of vaccination rates.

One of the reason it has come to this is the plummeting vaccine interest in Romania which comes from a long-standing mistrust in authorities, vaccine-scepticism, plus officials' poor approach in dealing with the virus. A survey carried at the end of last year showed that the majority of Romania have little-to-no trust in authorities.

The recent political crisis and scandals don’t help either, as it just ups the feelings of uncertainty, as ex-minister of health claimed that the number of Covid cases had been watered-down - to allow for a weekend political gathering organised by the ruling National Liberal party.

Romania is still without a full fledge government, a minority government clinging on for life, and a myriad of both medical and economic crises needing immediate response. Romania's ongoing political crisis has no end in sight and seems more convoluted by the day.

The health-care system is overwhelmed, with no ICU beds left. Romania's medical care has been consistently ranked EU's worst and most under-financed.

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COVID cases break records in Europe, prompting booster shot rethink

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A medic tends to coronavirus disease (COVID-19) patients at the intensive care unit (ICU) of Pirogov hospital in Sofia, Bulgaria. REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov

Coronavirus infections broke records in parts of Europe on Wednesday (24 November), with the continent once again the epicentre of a pandemic that has prompted new curbs on movement and made health experts think again about booster vaccination shots, write Jason Hovet, Robert Muller, Gergely Szakacs, Niklas Pollard, Andreas Rinke, Riham Alkousaa, Angelo Amante, Sudip Kar Gupta, Geert De Clercq and Sarah Marsh in bureaux across Europe, Nick Macfie, Francesco Guarascio and Jason Hovet.

Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Hungary all reported new highs in daily infections as winter grips Europe and people gather indoors in the run-up to Christmas, providing a perfect breeding ground for COVID-19.

The disease has swept the world in the two years since it was first identified in central China, infecting more than 258 million people and killing 5.4 million. Read more.

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The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), the EU public health agency, recommended vaccine boosters for all adults, with priority for those over 40, in a major shift from its previous guidance which suggested the extra doses should be considered for older frail people and those with weakened immune systems.

"Available evidence emerging from Israel and the UK shows a significant increase in protection against infection and severe disease following a booster dose in all age groups in the short term," the ECDC said in a report published on Wednesday. Read more.

Many EU countries have already begun giving booster doses to their populations but are using different criteria to make priorities and different intervals between the first shots and boosters.

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ECDC head Andrea Ammon said boosters would increase protection against infection caused by waning immunity and "could potentially reduce the transmission in the population and prevent additional hospitalisations and deaths".

She advised countries with low levels of vaccination to speed up their rollouts and warned of high risks of a further spike in deaths and hospitalisations in Europe in December and January if the recommended measures are not introduced.

World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, acknowledging that Europe was again at the epicentre of the pandemic, warned against a "false sense of security" over the protection offered by vaccines.

"No country is out of the woods," he told reporters, adding that he hoped a consensus can be found at a World Trade Organization ministerial meeting next week for an IP waiver for pandemic vaccines, already supported by more than 100 countries. Read more.

Sweden will begin gradually rolling out boosters to all adults, government and health officials said. Booster shots of mRNA vaccine have been offered to people aged 65 or above, with an eye to eventually extending the shots to other groups.

"We are faced with an uncertain winter," Health Minister Lena Hallengren told a news conference. "You can contribute by staying home if you're sick or by getting vaccinated if you haven't already, and taking your booster when you're offered it."

Slovakia reported its highest daily rise in cases on Wednesday, just ahead of a government meeting likely to agree a short-term lockdown to quell the world's fastest surge in infections.

Neighbouring Austria has already locked down its population this week for at least 10 days, becoming the first to reimpose such restrictions. It will also require the whole population to be vaccinated from Feb. 1, infuriating many in a country where scepticism about state mandates affecting individual freedoms runs high.

The Czech Republic reported its highest daily rise in infections, with cases surpassing 25,000 for the first time and putting further strain on hospitals. The government is looking to institute mandatory vaccines for people over 60 and some professions, like healthcare workers.

Hungary reported a record 12,637 new daily COVID-19 cases.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban's government, which opposes further lockdowns for fear of stifling the economy, launched a vaccination campaign this week, offering shots without prior registration.

But the idea of mandatory vaccinations has also raised concerns among Hungarians.

"Making the vaccine obligatory is a difficult thing as it could limit people severely, including from earning a living, so I think such a decision should be made very carefully," said Zsuzsanna Koszoru as she lined up for a booster shot.

France announced new COVID containment measures on Thursday (25 November) as the infection rate surges nationwide. Government spokesman Gabriel Attal said it wants to avoid major curbs on public life, preferring to strengthen social distancing rules and speeding up its booster campaign. Read more.

Italy is expected to restrict access to some indoor venues for people who have not been vaccinated. Read more. The Dutch government will announce new measures today (26 November).

Many German regions have already started to impose tighter rules amid the country's worst COVID surge yet as the curtain comes down on the Angela Merkel era, including demanding that vaccinated people show a negative test to attend indoor events. Read more.

Outgoing Health Minister Jens Spahn said on Monday that by the end of the winter almost everyone in Germany would be "vaccinated, recovered or dead".

Interactive graphic tracking global spread of coronavirus.

Eikon users can click here for a case tracker.

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EU Digital COVID Certificate: Commission adopts equivalence decisions for Singapore and Togo

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The Commission has adopted two new decisions certifying that COVID-19 certificates issued by Singapore and Togo are equivalent to the EU Digital COVID Certificate. As a result, the two countries will be connected to the EU's system. The EU will accept their COVID certificates under the same conditions as the EU Digital COVID Certificate. This means that holders of certificates issued by these two countries will be able to use them under the same conditions as holders of an EU Digital COVID Certificate. At the same time, the two countries agreed to accept the EU Digital COVID Certificate for travel from the EU to their countries.

Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders welcomed the increasing number of countries joining the EU's effort and highlights: “To date, we have 51 countries and territories in five continents that are now connected to the EU Digital COVID Certificate system. I am delighted also that we have the first Southeast Asian country and the first sub-Saharan African country that will be interconnected to the Digital COVID Certificate. With the end of the year holidays approaching, I want to reaffirm to travellers the importance of this tool to underpin the confidence to travel inside and outside the EU.”

The two Commission decisions adopted today will enter into force as of 25 November 2021. More information on the EU Digital COVID Certificate can be found on the dedicated website.

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Total COVID deaths in Europe could exceed 2.2 million by March - WHO

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A health worker stands near an ambulance carring a COVID-19 patient, as they wait in the queue at a hospital for people infected with the coronavirus disease in Kyiv, Ukraine. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich

The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Tuesday (23 November) a further 700,000 people could die from COVID-19 in Europe by March, taking the total to above 2.2 million, as it urged people to get vaccinated and to have booster shots, writes Emma Farge.

Total cumulative deaths from the respiratory disease in the 53 countries of the WHO's European region have already surpassed 1.5 million, it said, with the daily rate doubling from late September to 4,200 a day.

The WHO's European region also includes Russia and other former Soviet republics as well as Turkey.

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"Cumulative reported deaths are projected to reach over 2.2 million by spring next year, based on current trends," it said, adding that COVID-19 is now the top regional cause of death.

High or extreme stress on intensive care units (ICU) is expected in 49 out of 53 countries by March 1, the WHO added.

France, Spain and Hungary were among those countries expected to experience extreme stress in ICU usage in early 2022, according to the data cited by the WHO Europe.

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The Netherlands started transporting COVID-19 patients across the border to Germany on Tuesday as pressure rises on hospitals and infections jump to record levels. Austria began its fourth lockdown on Monday (22 November). Read more.

The WHO said a high number of unvaccinated people as well as "reduced vaccine-induced protection" were among the factors stoking high transmission in Europe alongside the dominance of the Delta variant and the relaxation of hygiene measures.

WHO Europe director Hans Kluge urged people to get vaccinated and also to get a booster dose "if offered".

WHO officials in the Geneva headquarters have previously advised against COVID-19 vaccine boosters until more people around the world have received primary doses. WHO officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether this represented a change in official guidance.

"All of us have the opportunity and responsibility to help avert unnecessary tragedy and loss of life, and limit further disruption to society and businesses over this winter season," said Kluge.

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