More than half of Europeans will be infected by Omicron in the next two months, says the WHO

More than half of people in Europe are about to be affected by the Omicron virus variant in the next two months if the infections continue at the current rate, the World Health Organization said on Tuesday.

At a press conference, regional manager Hans Kluge warned that the Omicron variant represented a “new west-to-east tidal wave sweeping across” the European region.

“At this rate, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) predicts that more than 50 percent of the region’s population will be infected with Omicron in the next six to eight weeks,” Kluge told reporters.

The WHO European Region covers 53 countries and territories, including several in Central Asia, and Kluge noted that 50 of them had confirmed cases of the Omicron variant.

According to the WHO, 26 of these countries reported that over one percent of their population “caught Covid-19 every week” on January 10, and that the region had seen over seven million new virus cases reported in the first week of 2022 alone.

Kluge said the “unmatched scale of transmission” now meant that countries saw increasing hospital admissions from Covid-19, but added that mortality was still stable.

The scale “challenges healthcare systems and service delivery in many countries where Omicron has spread at a rapid pace and threatens to be overwhelmed in many more”, Kluge lamented.

Referring to data collected in recent weeks, Kluge said the variant was confirmed to be more transmissible and “the mutations it has make it easier for it to attach to human cells, and it can infect even those who have been previously infected or vaccinated.”

But Kluge also stressed that “approved vaccines continue to provide good protection against serious illness and death, including for Omicron.”

Despite reports of a higher rate of asymptomatic cases and a lower proportion of hospital admissions for Omicron cases, the WHO said it was too early to treat the disease as endemic – meaning a more common mild illness such as the flu.

“We still have a virus that is developing quite rapidly and posing fairly new challenges. So we are certainly not at the point of being able to call it endemic,” WHO rescue official Catherine Smallwood told reporters.

“This virus, as we know, has surprised us more than once … The main goal for 2022 is to stabilize the pandemic,” Kluge concluded.

Worldwide, 5.5 million deaths have been associated with Covid-19, according to a report compiled by AFP from official sources.

The WHO says that the actual toll can be two to three times that figure.


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