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WHO says international travel should still be avoided to avert COVID-19 surge

By
Don Johnson
Homeless and migrant laborers affected by the COVID-19 lockdown queue up to receive free cooked food distributed by Sikh volunteers in New Delhi, India, on May 18, 2021. Photo by Abhishek/UPI | License Photo

May 20 (UPI) -- Declining COVID-19 transmissions in Europe indicate that coronavirus vaccines are protecting against new variants, the World Health Organization's European director said Thursday.

Regional director Hans Kluge cautioned, however, that the pandemic is not over yet and said international travel should still be avoided to prevent a resurgence.

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New cases in Europe have fallen from 1.7 million in mid-April to about 685,000 cases last week, a decline of about 60%, Kluge told reporters in Copenhagen.

"This progress is fragile," Kluge said during the briefing.

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"Let us not make the same mistakes that were made this time last year, that resulted in a resurgence of COVID-19 and saw our health systems, communities and economies once again bear the full force of this pandemic

Several countries have lifted travel restrictions in recent weeks for fully vaccinated travelers. The European Union said Wednesday it will soon allow entry for inoculated visitors.

Kluge added that a COVID-19 variant first identified in India has been found in 26 of the 53 countries in the European region. Most, he noted, have a link to international travel.

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"In the face of a continued threat and new uncertainty we need to exercise caution and rethink or avoid international travel," he said.

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While the available vaccines appear to work against the new B.1.617 variant, Kluge emphasized that only about 11% of people in the European region are fully vaccinated. Fewer than a quarter have received the initial dose.

Catherine Smallwood, WHO senior European emergency officer, said the organization is tracking the variant "very closely."

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