9 February 2022 – In just a few days, we will see the 20th million person in our Region infected with COVID-19. Over the past 2 years, the losses due to the pandemic have been staggering, with more than 324 000 lives lost, major economic decline, social divisions, and family disruptions.

The virus continues to indiscriminately target people in all countries of the Region, regardless of age, gender, profession, or geographical location. But we know those who are most at risk of severe disease and death – the elderly, those with pre-existing conditions, the immunocompromised and front-line health workers. In our Region and other WHO regions, even the strongest health systems have become severely stressed.

There has been a dramatic increase in the number of COVID-19 cases over the past 6 weeks, with a daily average of over 110 000 cases. A rise in deaths has also been reported over the past 3 weeks, with a daily average of 345 deaths, but this increase is at a lower level than during previous waves, and vaccines are also providing protection against severe forms and deaths.

Vaccines remain one of the best tools to save lives. Despite several challenges, more than 35% of the Region’s population is now fully vaccinated. Although rates of full vaccination vary enormously among countries, ranging from between 1% and 94%. Once again, inequity is a hallmark of this pandemic. And while vaccines remain a critical tool, our success requires a comprehensive approach with governments and communities at the heart of

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