More than half of Europe’s population will have contracted the omicron variant of the novel coronavirus in the next two months if infection numbers continue at current rates, the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned.
The prognosis is based on an estimate from the Institute for Health Metrics and Assessment (IHME) at the University of Washington, quoted by the director of the European section of the WHO, Hans Kluge, at a press conference on Tuesday (11/01).
“At this rate, the Institute for Health Metrics and Assessment predicts that more than 50% of the region’s population will be infected with the omicron in the next six to eight weeks,” Kluge said. “Data collected over the last few weeks confirm that the omicron is highly transmissible, because its mutations allow it to more easily attach to human cells and can infect even those who were previously infected or vaccinated.”
Seven million new cases in one week
Kluge said 26 countries in the WHO’s European division – which comprises 53 countries, including some in Central Asia – have reported that more than 1% of their populations are being infected with the coronavirus weekly, which represents more than seven million new cases of infection. only in the first week of 2022.
Of the total number of countries considered European by the WHO, 50 have already reported cases of the omicron variant, which has rapidly become the dominant variant in Western Europe and has now spread across the Balkans region.
Kluge urged countries in the region not yet affected by the new variant to adopt measures such as the use of high-quality masks, the promotion of complete vaccination, including booster doses, and the preparation of response systems that include, for example, more accessible.
In countries where there is already an omni wave, the priority should be to prevent and reduce harm to vulnerable groups and minimize pressure on health systems and essential services.
“Too early to classify it as endemic”
Kluge said that the “unprecedented scale of transmission” reflects the fact that countries are faced with an increase in the number of hospitalizations for covid-19, but stressed that mortality rates still remain stable.
“The wave is challenging health systems and service delivery in many countries where the omicron has spread rapidly and threatens to overwhelm many others,” lamented Kluge. On the other hand, he also emphasized that “approved vaccines continue to provide good protection against serious illness and death, including for the micron.”
Despite reports of a higher degree of asymptomatic cases and a lower proportion of hospitalizations for cases of the omicron variant, the WHO said it was too early to treat the disease as endemic – in the case of a milder, regularly occurring illness such as the flu.
“We still have a virus that is evolving very rapidly and presenting new challenges. So we’re certainly not at the point where we can call it endemic,” said Catherine Smallwood of the WHO’s emergency department.
“This virus, as we know, has surprised us more than once… The main aspirational goal for 2022 is to stabilize the pandemic”, concluded Kluge.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, more than 5.5 million deaths have been associated with Covid-19 worldwide, according to data compiled by the AFP news agency based on official sources. However, the WHO claims that the actual number could be two to three times higher.