(CN) — With deaths from the coronavirus pandemic rising, the World Health Organization urged the world Friday not to let guards down for wintry festivities.
With more than 70,000 deaths a week, the total death toll from the pandemic has reached nearly 1.6 million. More than 80% of the world’s deaths and infections are occurring in the Americas and Europe.
“In the past six weeks the number of weekly deaths has increased by around 60%,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO director-general, during a news briefing on Friday.
“The festive season is a time to relax and to celebrate, but we must not relax our guard,” he said. “Celebration can very quickly turn to sadness if we fail to take the right precautions.”
In hard-hit areas, people should continue fighting the virus by keeping physically distant, wearing masks, washing hands frequently and avoiding large gatherings, the world health agency urged.
“If you live in an area with high transmission, please take every precaution to keep yourselves and others safe,” Tedros said. “That could be the best gift you could give.”
The United States is experiencing its darkest days yet and recorded a staggering 3,263 deaths on Wednesday, a new grim record. On Thursday, the U.S. reported nearly 3,000 new deaths, bringing its death toll to more than 300,000.
As of Dec. 6, new infections in the Americas rose by 12% and deaths by 18% compared with the previous week, the latest WHO situation report on the pandemic found.
Europe too continues to report high death tolls, though new infections and deaths are diminishing in many countries after months of lockdowns and restrictions. As of Dec. 6, new infections in Europe had fallen by 9% compared with the previous week and deaths in Europe fell by 3%.
The hope is that the rollout of vaccines will eventually bring the pandemic to an end. The United Kingdom began vaccinations this week after it approved a vaccine created by the U.S. pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and BioNTech, a German company. The European Union and the United States are very close to approving vaccines too.
But with the rollout of vaccines expected to take a very long time, the WHO said people will need to continue taking measures to not get infected during the coming year.
“We must continue with a comprehensive approach to controlling this disease,” said Dr. Mike Ryan, the head of emergencies at the WHO.
Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.