WHO recommends masks, distancing for vaccinated amid virus surge in Europe

The World Health Organization (WHO) is recommending that the public in Europe practice social distancing and masking, regardless of their vaccination status, as case rates skyrocket there, according to CNBC

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that parts of Europe have fallen into a "false sense of security," believing there is no risk of COVID-19 to the vaccinated and that the danger of infection has passed even as Europe has become the "epicenter of the pandemic," reports CNBC.

"Even if you're vaccinated, continue to take precautions to prevent becoming infected yourself, and to infecting someone else who could die," Tedros said, according to CNBC. "That means wearing a mask, maintaining distance, avoiding crowds and meeting others outside if you can, or in a well-ventilated space inside."

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The WHO's recommendation comes amid unprecedented COVID-19 case rates across Europe. Some countries — such as Hungary, the Netherlands, Slovakia and the Czech Republic — have this week reported their highest daily COVID-19 infections since the start of the pandemic.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control is now recommending booster shots for all adults, reversing course on its prior stance on the matter. 

Throughout Europe, 65 percent of residents are fully vaccinated. However, the WHO's definition of the European region, which includes 53 nations in Europe and Central Asia, shows a lower vaccination rate, at only 54 percent.

The WHO's Europe branch issued a warning on Tuesday as cases began to creep up, cautioning that Europe could see 700,000 additional COVID-19 deaths by the spring, following the uptick in cases.

Director of WHO Europe Robb Butler said that the organization is not opposed to countries implementing vaccine mandates to fight COVID-19 but that doing so should be a "last resort" as it can cause an "erosion of trust" among citizens.