Omicron on track to infect more than half of Europe, WHO says

The Omicron variant of Covid-19 is well on its way to infecting more than half of Europeans, but it shouldn’t be considered a flu-like endemic disease just yet World health organization (WHO) said on Tuesday.

Europe recorded more than 7 million newly reported cases in the first week of 2022, more than doubling in two weeks, WHO Europe Director Hans Kluge said in a press conference.

“At this rate, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation predicts that in the next 6-8 weeks more than 50 percent of the population in the region will be infected with Omicron,” said Kluge, referring to a research center at the University of Washington.

Fifty out of 53 countries in Europe and Central Asia have reported cases of the more contagious variant, Kluge said.

On Monday, Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said it may be time to change how Covid-19 is evolving to use a flu-like method instead, as lethality has decreased.

This would mean treating the virus as an endemic disease rather than a pandemic without recording every case and without testing everyone with symptoms.

Patients are waiting to be tested for Covid on December 23, 2021 in Paris. Stephane Du Sakutin / AFP – Getty Images

But that’s “a way out,” said Catherine Smallwood, WHO’s chief emergency officer for Europe, at the briefing, adding that endemic disease requires stable and predictable transmission.

“We still have a lot of uncertainty and a virus that is evolving fairly quickly and introducing new challenges. We are certainly not where we can call it endemic, ”said Smallwood.

“It could become endemic in due course, but it’s a little difficult to pin down to 2022 right now.”

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