It is too early for countries to treat COVID as an endemic disease like the flu, the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned, as there is still “huge uncertainty” about the spread of the Omicron variant.
Omicron is set to infect more than half of Europeans over the next two months, WHO director for Europe Hans Kluge told reporters on Tuesday.
It comes after Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi suggested that the UK could be one of the first countries to ‘go’ from pandemic to endemic.
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Omicron poised to infect more than half of Europeans in two months
Europe saw more than seven million new cases reported in the first week of 2022, more than doubling in two weeks.
“At this rate, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation predicts that more than 50% of the region’s population will be infected with Omicron in the next six to eight weeks,” Kluge said during a briefing. press, referring to a research center. at the University of Washington.
Fifty of the 53 countries in Europe and Central Asia have recorded cases of the most transmissible variant.
Since it was first reported by scientists in South Africa in November, the COVID-19 strain has spread internationally and is now known to be present in at least a third of countries.
The transition from pandemic to endemic
Several studies have shown that Omicron’s risk of hospitalization is lower than that of Delta.
But the WHO has warned that more studies are still needed to prove it.
Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said on Monday it might be time to follow the current COVID crisis in a flu-like fashion due to its declining case fatality.
He declared: “I believe that we have the conditions to, with precaution, slowly, to open the debate at the technical level and at the level of the health professionals, but also at the European level, to begin to evaluate the evolution of this disease with different settings that we don’t have so far. “
Over the weekend, Mr Zahawi told Sky News ‘Trevor Phillips on Sunday:’ I hope we will be one of the first big economies to show the world how you go from a pandemic to an endemic and then dealing with it. that as long as it remains. us, whether it’s five, six, seven, 10 years. “
“Still a huge uncertainty”
WHO’s emergency officer for Europe, Catherine Smallwood, has since warned against treating the virus as endemic.
She said: “We still have a tremendous amount of uncertainty and a virus that is evolving quite rapidly, imposing new challenges. We are certainly not at the point where we can call it endemic.”
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Mr Kluge said 26 European countries have reported that more than 1% of their population is infected with COVID every week, before urgently warning that there is a “window of opportunity closing” for countries to prevent their health systems from being overwhelmed.
He added: “Omicron moves faster and wider than any (previous) variants we’ve seen.”