Omicron may infect half of Europeans within weeks, WHO says
More than half of Europe’s population may be infected with Omicron within weeks at current transmission rates, a World Health Organization official has said.
The fast-spreading variant represents a “west-to-east tidal wave sweeping across the region,” said Hans Kluge, the regional director of the WHO for Europe at a briefing on Tuesday. He cited forecasts by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation that the majority of Europeans could catch it in the next six to eight weeks.
The latest Covid surge has so far resulted in fewer symptomatic cases and lower death rates than in previous waves, fuelling optimism the pandemic may be easing. However, the WHO has repeatedly warned against underestimating the Omicron strain as mild. Kluge said hospitalisation rates are increasing in Europe, which is putting pressure on health systems.
Separately, another WHO official said it’s too early to consider that Covid-19 is moving into an endemic phase, a question that the Spanish government has suggested it’s time to debate.
An endemic phase would see “stable circulation of the virus at predictable levels, but what we’re seeing at the moment coming into 2022 is nowhere near that,” said Catherine Smallwood, senior emergency officer at WHO Europe.
“We still have a huge amount of uncertainty, we still have a virus that’s evolving quite quickly and posing new challenges,” she said. “We’re certainly not at the point of being able to call it endemic.”
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