The World Health Organization said Thursday that since early March about 159,000 more people have died in 24 European countries than would have ordinarily been expected, with a "significant proportion" of the increase linked to COVID-19.
WHO official Katie Smallwood told reporters during a remote briefing Thursday that while that figure reflects all causes of deaths in those countries, its timing coincides with the peak period during which people were dying of COVID-19 in hospitals in Italy, France, Spain and Britain.
Smallwood said that is a good indication the significantly higher death toll during the period is linked to COVID-19.
WHO Regional Director for Europe Hans Kluge said during the briefing there are now more than two million confirmed cased of COVID-19 in Europe, up 15 percent over the past two weeks, with Russia, Turkey, Belarus and Britain leading the way in new infections. More than 175,000 people have died in Europe from COVID-19 since the pandemic began.
Smallwood said European countries that may ease restrictions, including on bars, discos and other social hubs, must have robust disease detection, testing and tracing systems in place first, to help keep at bay a potential "second wave," where the pandemic might re-emerge.