As COVID-19 infections grow across Europe, holiday season etiquette and the rising mental health crisis were the major takeaways from a press statement from the World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Director for Europe Hans Kluge on Friday.
Highlighting close to 23 million cases and more than half a million lost lives in Europe due to COVID-19 during the year, the WHO regional director sought to appeal to the region's population to stay home.
"There remains a difference between what you are being permitted to do by authorities and what you should do. The safest thing right now is to stay at home," he said.
In addressing the ongoing human psychological toll of the pandemic, Kluge said "a growing mental health crisis" had been inflicted upon the European region.
"From anxieties around virus transmission, the psychological impact of lockdowns and self-isolation, to the effects of unemployment, financial worries, and social exclusion, the mental health impact of the pandemic will be long-term and far-reaching."
Further elaborating on the devastating psychological impact, Kluge cited national surveys in the region which had revealed that a third or more of adults, one in two young people (18 to 29-year-olds) and up to 20 percent of health care workers were already subject to anxiety and depression because of the pandemic.
As even larger numbers are expected to face severe mental health challenges in the coming months, Kluge made a call for action across the European region.
"In acknowledgment of the growing crisis, I am calling for concerted action to invest in stronger mental health care services, particularly those that bring care to the community or utilize digital care to reduce obstacles to vital assistance," he said.
The WHO official also made a personal admission that he had made the "difficult decision" to spend the holidays apart from his family so that "next year we can hope to be together again."
"My wish for 2021 is for each and every one of us, and our communities, to be safe and healthier... When we look back at these unprecedented times, I hope we all felt we acted with a spirit of shared humanity to protect those in need."