Europe is facing the storm of the coronavirus or COVID-19 pandemic as the number of cases is nearing one million and the continent should take steps with extreme caution while considering easing lockdowns, the WHO regional director stated on Thursday.

"Case numbers across the region continue to climb. In the past 10 days, the number of cases reported in Europe has nearly doubled to close to 1 million," the WHO's European director, Hans Kluge, mentioned to the reporters in an online briefing. He further added that the coronavirus burden is 50 percent on Europe and 84,000 have died due to the outbreak.

"The storm clouds of this pandemic still hang heavily over the European region," Kluge said. As some countries start to consider whether restrictions may be eased and whether schools and some workplaces might start to reopen, he said it was critical to understand the complexity and uncertainty of such transitioning.

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Companies and politicians across the world are worried about the economic impact of a long shutdown, and some countries in Europe - such as Germany, Denmark, Spain and others - are beginning to think about how to ease some societal restrictions. Kluge said the WHO recognised that social distancing policies designed to slow the spread of the virus "are affecting lives and livelihoods".

"People are rightly asking: How much do we have to endure? And for how long? In response, we, governments, and health authorities must come up with answers to identify when, under what conditions and how we can consider a safe transition."

Any step to lift lockdown measures must firstly ensure several key things, he said, including that evidence shows a country's COVID-19 transmission is being controlled, outbreak risks are minimised, and that health systems have the capacity to identify, test, trace and isolate COVID-19 cases. "We remain in the eye of the storm...If you cannot ensure these criteria are in place before easing restrictions, I urge you to re-think," he said, adding: "There is no fast track back to normal."

(With agency inputs)