UK COVID variant has spread to almost every country in Europe, WHO warns

James Morris
·Senior news reporter, Yahoo News UK
·2 min read
The B.1.1.7 variant has now been identified in 91% of countries and territories on the continent, Dr Hans Kluge announced on Thursday.
The B.1.1.7 variant has now been identified in 91% of countries and territories on the continent, Dr Hans Kluge announced on Thursday. (WHO Regional Office for Europe/YouTube)

The UK variant of coronavirus has spread to almost every country in Europe, the World Health Organization (WHO) has said.

The more transmissible variant, first identified in Kent late last year, was the cause of the UK’s winter crisis which saw record numbers of COVID-19 infections, hospital admissions and deaths.

Dr Hans Kluge, WHO Europe’s regional director, announced on Thursday that the variant, also known as B.1.1.7, has now been identified in 91% of the continent's countries and territories.

It comes as cases continue to spike across Europe. On Wednesday, eight of the 10 countries worldwide with the highest rate of new cases per one million people were European, as this chart by Oxford University’s Our World in Data website demonstrates.

(Our World in Data)
(Our World in Data)

The UK, by comparison, reported just 85 cases per one million having managed to bring the variant under control with its lockdowns and successful vaccine rollout.

Dr Kluge told a briefing of the picture in Europe: “We are yet to see the widespread health impact and benefits of vaccines, which I can also assure you, will come. But for now, we need to remain steadfast in our application of the full range of tools to respond.

Watch: Raab blasts EU ‘brinkmanship’ over threat to halt coronavirus vaccine exports

“Some 48 out of 53 European countries or territories have reported the B.1.1.7 variant of concern, which is gradually becoming predominant in our region.”

Last month, Prof Sharon Peacock, director of the UK’s genetic surveillance programme, had said the Kent variant "will probably sweep the world".

Dr Kluge, meanwhile, warned the “danger is still clear and present” in Europe, with more than 1.2 million cases reported across the continent last week alone.

Read more:

Revealed: Millions of Oxford vaccine doses sitting unused across the EU

Jonathan Van-Tam reads out paracetamol side effects on live TV to prove COVID vaccine safety

There was also more than 20,000 deaths, with Dr Kluge pointing out this is higher than a year ago, when countries were introducing their first lockdowns.

He suggested many countries will still need these “public health and social measures” in the months to come.

Watch: How England is leaving lockdown