Five countries including the UK have been praised by the World Health Organization (WHO) for bringing the new coronavirus variant under control.
Dr Hans Kluge, regional director of WHO Europe, confirmed on Thursday that the B.1.1.7 variant – first identified in Kent late last year – has now spread to almost every country on the continent.
With the Kent variant being more transmissible, Dr Kluge also warned it will soon become the “predominant” strain of the virus on the continent.
However, using the examples of five European countries, he was also keen to point out it is still possible to reduce transmission of the virus.
Dr Kluge said: “And yet, in the context of this faster spreading variant, several countries – including but not limited to Denmark, Ireland, Portugal, Spain and the UK – have rapidly reduced transmission with public health and social measures to levels that can, and must, be kept low.”
Those low case numbers, measured per one million people on Wednesday, are demonstrated on this chart by Oxford University’s Our World in Data website.
By comparison, a number of European countries are suffering huge spikes in cases. As this chart shows, eight of the 10 countries worldwide with the highest case rates on Wednesday were European.
Throughout the pandemic, it has been rare for the UK to be praised for its handling of the virus – a subject brought further into the spotlight by the comments of Dominic Cummings, Boris Johnson’s former chief adviser, at a House of Commons committee on Wednesday.
However, the UK’s lockdowns, and successful rollout of the vaccine, have seen infections plummet since January, though it should be pointed out this decline slowed down in mid-February and has levelled off in March, as this government graph shows.
Spain’s ‘incredible progress’
Spain, like the UK, was another country badly hit at the start of the pandemic one year ago.
As of Wednesday, Our World in Data said Spain had the world's 15th highest rate of COVID deaths per one million people: 1,557.
But during Thursday’s briefing, it was singled out by Dr Catherine Smallwood, WHO Europe’s senior emergency officer, for successfully reducing transmission this year.
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“We do have to recognise Spain has made incredible progress in bringing down transmission since the early months of this year, where Spain was seeing at its peak around 42,000 new cases every day. Now that’s gone down by about seven-fold.”
Spain is under a curfew until May, with people only allowed out for purposes such as work, school or buying essentials.
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