About 159,000 more people in 24 European countries have died since early March than would have ordinarily been expected, a World Health Organization (WHO) official said on Thursday, with a "significant proportion" of the spike linked to COVID-19.
So far, more than 2 million people in Europe have been sickened by the new coronavirus, up 15% over the past two weeks, with Russia, Turkey, Belarus and Britain leading the way in new infections, WHO European officials said on a call. More than 175,000 people have died.
While the figure for excess deaths takes into account all mortality causes, Katie Smallwood, a WHO emergency official, said its timing -- recorded as thousands of people were dying in intensive care units in places like northern Italy, France, Spain and Britain -- points to COVID-19's deadly impact.
"What we have seen very clearly is that the peak in excess mortality corresponds in those countries to the peak of the transmission of COVID-19," Smallwood told reporters. "This gives us a very good indication that a very significant proportion of this excess deaths is linked and due to COVID-19."
Smallwood said countries like Germany, Switzerland and others 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 epidemic might re-emerge.
"Opening businesses, or clubs (and) bars, where people do come together will absolutely have to depend on a very strong ability of the health system to know how the virus is transmitting, where it is transmitting...and ensure that targeted interventions to prevent and break any transmission of the virus can be put in place," Smallwood said.