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WHO: ‘Long COVID’ Poses Challenges for 36 Million Europeans’ Return to Normal Life

Although no longer classified as a global emergency, COVID-19’s enduring impact, combined with other threats like mpox and seasonal heat waves, may present challenges for Europe throughout the summer, warned the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) regional office on Tuesday. Speaking at a virtual press conference from Copenhagen, Hans Kluge, WHO’s regional director for Europe, emphasized that while this summer brings hope of respite from COVID-19, the life-threatening virus has not entirely vanished.

Kluge highlighted that the coronavirus continues to cause a minimum of 1,000 deaths per week across the region, underscoring additional health concerns as the holiday season commences. Over the past three years of the global health crisis, an estimated 36 million people in Europe may have experienced the effects of “long COVID,” a complex condition that remains poorly understood by scientists. Dr. Kluge emphasized that these individuals may still find it challenging to resume a “normal life.”

In addition to its lingering effects, COVID-19 has exacerbated other diseases such as cancers, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and chronic lung illnesses, accounting for 75 percent of mortality in the region today. Dr. Kluge reiterated WHO’s call for further research to develop comprehensive diagnostics and treatments for long COVID.

Responding to the ongoing threat, Dr. Kluge urged eligible individuals, particularly those in vulnerable groups, to get vaccinated against COVID-19. He stressed the importance of achieving at least 70 percent vaccine coverage for these groups, including primary doses as well as additional booster shots. Furthermore, he advocated for increased physical activity and a healthier lifestyle, recommending 25 minutes of moderate exercise per day, smoking cessation, reduced alcohol consumption, and limited salt intake to enhance resilience against both infectious and non-communicable diseases.

Dr. Kluge also issued a warning about the months of potentially extreme heat ahead. The European Union and the World Meteorological Organization have noted that extreme heat is becoming the norm rather than the exception. In the previous year, extreme heat claimed 20,000 lives in the region between June and August. Dr. Kluge advised limiting outdoor activities, staying hydrated, keeping homes cool, and ensuring ample rest. He urged people to look out for each other, especially elderly relatives and neighbors.

Furthermore, Dr. Kluge addressed the recent resurgence of mpox infections in the United States, Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain, and the United Kingdom. While only 22 new mpox cases were recorded in the European region in May, he recommended vaccination for those in high-risk groups, minimizing contact with others in the presence of symptoms, and avoiding close physical contact, including sexual contact, with individuals who have mpox. Dr. Kluge commended the United Kingdom’s vaccination efforts and called on other countries to reduce barriers to testing, vaccination, and care for high-risk groups.

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