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image sourceReutersimage captionVaccination rates are dropping in some European countries as infections rise

A spike in coronavirus infections and a slump in vaccination uptake is holding back Europe's effort to curb the pandemic, the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned.

The WHO's Europe director, Hans Kluge, said a recent increase in Covid-19 cases and deaths was "deeply worrying".

He blamed the more infectious Delta variant, the easing of restrictions and summer travel.

Mr Kluge predicted Europe could record another 236,000 deaths by December.

The WHO says the region has recorded more than 65 million confirmed cases and 1.3 million deaths since the start of the pandemic.

Covid infections across Europe declined in April but started to creep back up again at the end of June.

Mr Kluge said of the WHO Europe's 53 member states, 33 had registered an incidence rate greater than 10% in the past two weeks.

In the week to 26 August, Russia, France, the UK, Turkey, and Spain recorded the most cases in Europe, according to EU data.

Mr Kluge said countries in the Balkans, the Caucasus and the Central Asian republics had seen a particularly steep rise in cases, resulting in an increased burden on hospitals and deaths.

In the past week, there had been an 11% increase in the number of deaths in the region, he said.

The situation was a worrying one, he added, "particularly in the light of low vaccination uptake in priority populations in a number of countries".

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High-income European countries have among the highest rates of vaccination in the world.

Data gathered by the EU shows that 29 countries in the region have given 75.1% of adults one dose, and 64.9% two. Europe is only second to Asia in terms of the total number of doses administered, according to figures collated by Our World in Data.

However, in the past six weeks, vaccination uptake has slowed down, Mr Kluge said.

He attributed the slump to "a lack of access to vaccines in some countries and a lack of vaccine acceptance in others".

Only 6% of people in lower and lower-middle income countries in Europe are fully vaccinated, and some countries have only managed to vaccinate one in 10 health workers.

Mr Kluge said the stagnation of vaccine uptake in Europe was "of serious concern". This, paired with "vaccine scepticism and science denial", was holding us back from stabilising this crisis, he said.

Mr Kluge also defended plans for booster shots, saying that a third dose was a way to keep the vulnerable safe.

The WHO had previously said that topping up fully protected people would deprive the unvaccinated. 

Earlier this month the director the WHO's emergencies programme, Mike Ryan, likened it to handing out extra lifejackets to those who had them and leaving the rest to drown.

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