A couple enjoy evening aperitivo drinks in a bar as much of the country becomes a “yellow zone” easing coronavirus disease (COVID-19) restrictions, allowing bars and restaurants to have customers at outdoor tables in Venice , Italy, on 26., 2021.

Manuel Silvestri | Reuters

The World Health Organization urges “extreme caution” in lifting public health measures in countries around the world as the Covid pandemic rages in countries with low vaccination rates and puts other regions at risk for the spread of variants.

Countries with high vaccination rates like the United States and the United Kingdom have gradually lifted public health measures as other countries grapple with their worst outbreaks since the pandemic began.

“We are tracking this virus circulation around the world and are currently seeing a sharp increase in far too many countries,” said Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO technical director for Covid-19, at a briefing on Wednesday.

The European region saw Covid cases rise by 33% last week, but high vaccination rates can create the impression that the pandemic is over, WHO officials said.

“This is not a flat curve, this is a rising curve. The assumption that transmission will not increase because we open up because of vaccines is a false assumption, transmission will increase when you open,” said Dr. Mike Ryan. Executive Director of the WHO Emergency Health Program. “There are consequences.”

The Delta variant that dominated the UK is now the dominant variety in the United States. The variant is more communicable and could lead to more serious illnesses, although more studies are needed to confirm this, WHO officials said earlier.

Ryan said he hopes we don’t see a return to overworked hospitals and exhausted health workers in Europe as the virus is still evolving and changing. He warned that nations need to be “very, very careful” in order to maintain the successes they have had in fighting the pandemic.

“The idea that everyone is safe and it’s Kumbaya and everything is back to normal is, in my opinion, a very dangerous assumption right now anywhere in the world,” said Ryan.

There have been around 185 million confirmed cases of Covid and 4 million deaths worldwide to date, which is likely too few, according to WHO officials.

Some countries with high vaccination rates are planning to give booster vaccinations in the coming months, drop mask requirements and “relax as if the pandemic is over,” said WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

Far too many countries are seeing an increase in cases and hospitalizations resulting in oxygen starvation and causing a “death wave” in parts of Africa, Asia and Latin America, he said.

“Vaccination nationalism, with a handful of nations taking the lion’s share, is morally unjustifiable and an ineffective public health strategy against a respiratory virus that is rapidly mutating and becoming increasingly effective at moving from person to person,” Tedros said .

He said variants are currently winning the race against vaccines due to the unfair distribution of the life-saving syringes. At this stage of the pandemic, there are still millions of health workers who have not been vaccinated, which Tedros described as hideous: “It doesn’t have to be this way in the future.”