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This way, confinements could be avoided, according to the WHO

Masks show people’s faces 1:07

. – The lockdowns could be avoided if everyone followed health measures such as wearing masks, the top European official at the World Health Organization (WHO) said at a press conference on Thursday.

WHO Regional Director for Europe Hans Kluge stressed that lockdowns should be a “last resort” and urged the public to follow the guidelines to help prevent deaths.

He said that if 95% of people used masks, instead of the current 60%, “the confinements would not be necessary”, although he added that the use of masks was not a “panacea” and should be combined with other measures.

“Confinements can be avoided”

“If we all do our part, lockdowns can be avoided,” Kluge said.

He pointed out that hundreds of millions of people currently live under confinement, which require financial support and cause job losses, interruption of health services and collateral damage in terms of mental health, substance abuse and gender violence.

Kluge, speaking in Copenhagen, Denmark, warned of the “negative impact of too-rapid easing” and said restrictions should only be eased gradually.

Europe must remain ‘alert’ during winter, says WHO

European countries still face high rates of infection and death. Italy recorded 753 deaths on Wednesday, its highest number in a single day since the first wave. On Thursday, Poland reported a record number of deaths for the second day in a row, with 637.

There were more than 29,000 coronavirus deaths in the region last week, equivalent to the death of one person every 17 seconds, Kluge said. Deaths from covid-19 increased 18% in Europe over the past two weeks and currently 4,500 lives are lost daily, he added.

This is leading to more signs that health systems are overwhelmed. In France, intensive care wards (ICUs) have been at more than 95% capacity for 10 continuous days and ICUs in Switzerland are at full capacity, he said.

The health system collapses in some regions of Italy 0:32

“A little sign”

But Kluge said current restrictions across the continent had dropped new cases from 2 million to 1.8 million last week.

“It’s a small sign, but it’s a sign anyway,” he said. “I am promoting a level system based on levels of severity of community transmission, with a set of proportionate measures that could be considered in each of them,” he said.

“The virus thrives in the vulnerable, in doubts, in delaying government decisions,” he added.

Kluge said countries should ensure safe learning. Most European countries have kept schools open in their recent lockdowns and children are not seen as the main drivers of transmission.

Good news

Lufthansa and the challenge of distributing cold covid-19 vaccines 2:29

He said the good news about two vaccines represented a “new horizon.”

“While vaccines will not completely stop COVID-19 and do not answer all of our questions, they represent great hope in the war against this virus,” he said.

He warned that the vaccines “are not a silver bullet” as their supply and distribution will be limited, especially in the beginning.

“We know that the vaccine will be too late for winter, so we really have to stick together and implement the long-term measures that we know are working,” Kluge said.

The WHO director added that he is “hopeful” but “also very, very attentive because we have seen that health systems can be overwhelmed very quickly.”

CNN’s Artur Osinski, Antonia Mortensen, Sharon Braithwaite, Nicola Ruotolo and Amy Cassidy contributed reporting.