WHO concerned about Europe’s coronavirus outbreak as ICU beds near capacity in some regions

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A member of the medical staff treats a patient suffering from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) of the Slany Hospital in Slany, Czech Republic, October 13, 2020.

David W. Cerny | Reuters

The World Health Organization said Friday that Europe‘s coronavirus outbreak is “concerning” as the number of available intensive care beds continue to dwindle and near capacity in some regions.

When adjusting for population, the number of new coronavirus infections in Europe has now overtaken the United States, with Europe reporting 187 new Covid-19 cases per million people, based on a seven-day average, compared with 162 new Covid-19 cases per million people in the U.S.

In total, Europe, which includes the 27 European Union countries and the United Kingdom, is reporting an average of roughly 97,000 new cases per day, up 44% from one week ago, according to a CNBC analysis of data from Johns Hopkins University.

The resurgence of the virus across the region has prompted France to declare a public health state of emergency. Germany and the U.K. also announced new measures in an effort to curb the spread of the disease.

But Europe isn’t just seeing an increase in Covid-19 case numbers, according to Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s technical lead. It is also seeing an increase in hospitalizations and ICU admissions, she added.

“We know of a number of cities across Europe where ICU capacity will be reached in the coming weeks,” Kerkhove said Friday during a press conference at the agency’s Geneva headquarters. “That is concerning as we approach the flu season.”

Health officials have repeatedly warned that they are preparing to battle two bad viruses circulating later this year as the Covid-19 outbreak runs into flu season. Kerkhove on Friday urged the public to “rally” together, saying the world is not in the same position it was six months ago.

“We know so much more,” she said. “There is a lot of comparisons now versus what we were seeing in March. But the massive difference right now is that we have testing capacity increased, we have a public health workforce that has increased compared to where we were in March, we have medical facilities who have beds who are better trained and have better experience of dealing with Covid-19.”

She said people should wash their hands regularly, wear masks, maintain their distance from others and avoid going to crowded places.

“All contribute to bringing this under control,” she said. “It’s a number of things. It’s not just the wearing of masks. Masks must be used as part of a comprehensive package.”

“I know this is focused on Europe, but this is everywhere,” she added. “All the decisions that we make every day, we have some control over how we go about our daily lives. … Please do it all.”

The comments come shortly after the WHO released interim results from its Solidarity Therapeutics Trial that showed Gilead Sciences’ antiviral drug remdesivir had “little or no effect” on death rates among hospitalized patients.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Friday that dexamethasone, a widely used steroid, remains the only therapeutic that has shown to be effective against severe coronavirus infections.

–CNBC’s Sam Meredith and Nate Rattner contributed to this report.

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