Europe becomes first region to surpass 1 million COVID-19 deaths

Coronavirus-related deaths in the European region surpassed 1 million on Friday as vaccination efforts attempt to keep up with new variants causing a third wave of infections that could once again overwhelm hospitals.

Since the pandemic began, at least 37,221,978 infections and 1,000,062 deaths were reported in the European region, according to a Reuters tally.

The region, which includes 51 countries, has about 35.5 percent of all coronavirus deaths and 30.5 percent of all cases in the world. The region includes Russia, the United Kingdom, the 27 members of the European Union and other countries.

The European region has administered about 12 vaccine shots for every 100 people, behind the United States which has administered about 34 doses per 100 people, according to figures from Our World in Data. Israel leads the world in vaccination efforts with about 110 shots given for every 100 individuals. Some vaccines require two doses.

With the number of EU Covid-19 related deaths above 550,000 and less than a tenth of the population inoculated, European Commission head Ursula von der Leyen said the situation was worsening. "We see the crest of a third wave forming in member states, and we know that we need to accelerate the vaccination rates."

On Wednesday, the European Union threatened to ban exports of Covid-19 vaccines to Britain to safeguard scarce doses for its own citizens.

The number of infections in Europe have started picking up, with France recently seeing its biggest one-day jump in cases since November. The region is currently reporting a million new cases about every six days.

As the European Union looks to meet its summer target of inoculating 70 percent of adults, at least 13 countries in the bloc have suspended or delayed using AstraZeneca's Covid-19 vaccine after reports of blood coagulation in people who have received the shot.

Countries in eastern Europe, including Russia, remain the worst-affected based on the total number of cases and deaths.

Russia has the highest total number of Covid-19 infections, with over 4.4 million or nearly 12 percent of all the cases in the region. The country has one of the highest Covid-19 fatality rates in the world on a per capita basis, with about 153 deaths per 100,0000 residents, behind the United States with 164 deaths for every 100,000 people.

While the official death toll in Russia stands at 94,267, at least 221,534 have died due to the disease, according to a Reuters calculation which includes deaths reported by the country's Rosstat statistics agency.

Italy became the third country in Europe to exceed more than 100,000 deaths last week. Prime Minister Mario Draghi warned that the situation would worsen again with a jump in hospitalisations.

The World Health Organisation appealed to the governments not to pause vaccination campaigns, while the European Medicines Agency has said that the number of thromboembolic events in vaccinated people is no higher than the number seen in the general population.

'Exponential' rise in coronavirus cases in Germany

Coronavirus cases are rising exponentially in Germany and its public health body, the Robert Koch Institute, said that highly contagious virus variants could force the country back into lockdown.

German Health Minister Jens Spahn has said that Europe lacks the vaccines needed to significantly reduce cases.

"We have to be honest about the situation - in Europe we don't have enough vaccines to stop a third wave through vaccinations alone," he told reporters on Friday.

The increase in reported cases in Germany is said to be fuelled by outbreaks among younger people.

Spahn said a rise in the number of cases could mean that restrictions, which have only just started to be relaxed, might have to be re-imposed.

"The numbers are rising, the share of mutations is large and there are some fairly challenging weeks ahead of us," he said.

Ministers are particularly concerned about the Easter holidays. They are urging people not to travel and to limit gatherings to immediate family.

Just 8 percent of Germany's population has so far received a first dose of vaccine.

Vice president of the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases, Lars Schaade, warned of the possibility of "many severe cases and deaths, and hospitals that are overwhelmed".

The RKI has said that cases in Germany are rising at a "very clearly exponential rate".