Total deaths in the 53-country region have already hit 1.5 million, the European office of the UN’s health agency said, with the daily rate doubling from late September to 4,200 a day.
“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.
The continent is currently in the grip of a fourth wave of the respiratory virus, leading to harsh new lockdown restrictions that have caused unrest in the Netherlands, Austria, and Belgium.
The WHO‘s Regional Director for Europe, Hans Kluge, has urged Europeans to get a booster of the jab “if offered” and to abide by social distancing rules.
Dr Kluge added: “Today, the Covid-19 situation across Europe and Central Asia is very serious.
“We face a challenging winter ahead, but we should not be without hope, because all of us — governments, health authorities, individuals — can take decisive action to stabilize the pandemic.”
The priority for an additional jab of a Covid-19 vaccine should be for people who are vulnerable, the over-60s and healthcare workers, a statement by WHO Europe said.
Health officials said the three factors driving the increase are the highly transmissible delta variant of the virus, an easing of lockdown measures, and significant chunks of the European population that are still unvaccinated.
The health agency added that a high proportion of intensive care units – in 49 out of 53 countries – are expected to come under high or extreme stress by March 1 next year.
The Netherlands has already started transporting coronavirus patients across the border to Germany on Tuesday as pressure rises on its hospitals and infections rise.
Austria this week became the first western European country to re-enter lockdown since inoculation began earlier this year, and other nations are considering stronger measures.
WHO officials have previously advised against Covid-19 vaccine boosters until more people around the world have received primary doses.
“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,” Dr Kluge said.