More than half of people across Europe will be infected with the Omicron version of the coronavirus in the next two months, global health leaders have warned as they said Covid-19 cannot yet be called an “endemic” disease.
The European arm of the World Health Organization (WHO) said Omicron represents a “new tidal wave” as forecasts show that more than 50% of people across Europe will be infected in the next six to eight weeks.
It said the region entered the new year under “profound pressure”, with more than seven million cases in the first week of January.
Officials said calling Covid-19 “endemic” is “still a way out”.
Dr Hans Henri Kluge, WHO’s regional director for Europe, said people “should do everything possible not to become infected already”.
He said in a press briefing: “We have entered 2022 and countries in Europe and Central Asia are still under immense pressure from COVID-19.
“Today, the Omicron version represents a broad west-to-east tidal wave across the region, on top of the delta increase that all countries were managing by the end of 2021.
“The region saw over seven million new cases of Covid-19 in the first week of 2022, more than doubling in the two-week period.
“As of January 10, 26 countries report that more than 1% of their population is catching COVID-19 every week.”
He said: “It is rapidly becoming the dominant virus in Western Europe and is now spreading in the Balkans.
At this rate, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) estimates that more than 50% of the region’s population will be infected with Omicron in the next six to eight weeks.
“Data collected in recent weeks confirms that Omicron is highly transmitted and can also infect people who have been previously infected or vaccinated.
Today, the Omicron version represents a west-to-east tidal wave sweeping across the region, on top of the delta surge, which all countries were managing until the end of 2021. @hans_kluge
— WHO / Europe (@WHO_Europe) 11 January 2022
“Currently approved vaccines continue to provide good protection against serious disease and death, including Omicron.
“But, due to the scale of transmission, we are now seeing increasing Covid-19 hospitalizations. It is challenging health systems and service delivery in many countries where omicrons have spread and many more are at risk of drowning. ,
Dr Kluge said: “The main message is that everyone should do everything possible not to get infected in the first place.”
Asked whether COVID-19 is moving into an “endemic” phase, Dr Katherine Smallwood, senior emergency official at the WHO Regional Office for Europe, said: “We are still a way off in terms of endemicity.
“The endemicity assumes that there is some stable circulation of the virus at predicted levels and that there are potentially known and predicted waves of epidemic transmission.
“But what we’re seeing at the moment, coming in 2022, is out of nowhere – we still have a huge amount of uncertainty, we still have a virus that’s evolving very quickly and quite a new one.” presenting challenges.
“So we’re certainly not at the point of being able to call it endemic.
“It may be endemic in due course, but narrowing it down to 2022 is a bit difficult at this stage.”
The region saw over 7 million new reported cases of COVID-19 in the first week of 2022, more than doubling in the two-week period.
As of January 10, 26 countries report that more than 1% of their population is catching COVID-19 every week. @hans_kluge
— WHO / Europe (@WHO_Europe) 11 January 2022
She continued: “It all depends, of course, on how we respond to this, and widespread vaccination will be very important in moving towards such a scenario on a faster and equitable basis, and we are still He is one way away.
“At present, the conditions of endemism are not being fulfilled. The virus is not settling into a steady rate of transmission, and there is still a lot of unpredictability… do collectively. ,
Meanwhile, Dr. Smallwood suggests that Omicron is no lighter than Delta.
She told the briefing: “The reason we’re seeing a lot of mild infections in Western Europe and Israel is because of the high vaccination rates in our population.
“That immunity basically means that we are able to tolerate a high level of infection in the population, from a public health point of view.
“And, as much as we can tolerate that high level of infection in the population because of vaccine coverage, we cannot necessarily tolerate the disruption it is bringing to our critical services.
“We can’t predict the same modest resurgence of cases, and we have yet to see how Omicron will proceed in a situation where more people are susceptible and immunologically nave, and that’s where we need to keep our eyes open.” Need to have guns, be very cautious and don’t jump to conclusions about changing strategy and letting Covid spread – that would be a grave mistake.”
On the report of a so-called Deltachron variant, she said: “(There) there are reports of a recombination between the Delta and Omicron variants, and indeed we have been in contact with Cyprus, who are providing information about this.
“And at this stage it looks like it may be the result of laboratory contamination rather than a new variant or a new recombination between the two variants.”
Kluge said WHO Europe’s advice to encourage people to take the booster jab proposal is not contrary to international WHO statements that have called for prioritizing early vaccination over boosters.
He said the lockdown and mandatory vaccines should be “tools of last resort”.