Europe may be on the verge of ending the pandemic after Omicron, says the WHO

TheOmicron variant has moved the Covid-19 pandemic to a new phase and may bring it to an end in Europe, the WHO’s European Director said on Sunday.

“It is likely that the region is heading for a kind of pandemic playoffs,” Hans Kluge told AFP in an interview, adding that Omicron could infect 60 percent of Europeans in March.

As the current increase in Omicronsweeping across Europe has subsided, “there will be a global immunity for quite a few weeks and months, either due to the vaccine or because people have immunity due to the infection, and also lowering seasonal variations”.

“We anticipate that there will be a period of silence before Covid-19 can return towards the end of the year, but not necessarily that the pandemic will return,” said Kluge.

Top US researcher Anthony Fauci expressed similar optimism on Sunday, telling ABC News talk show “This Week” that with Covid-19 cases falling “quite sharply” in parts of the US, “things look good”.

While warning of overconfidence, he said that if the recent decline in the number of cases in areas like the Northeast of the United States continued, “I think you will begin to see a turnaround across the country.”

The WHO Regional Office for Africa also said last week that Covid’s cases had plummeted in that region and deaths were declining for the first time since the Omicron-dominated fourth wave of the virus reached its peak.

Other variants may still emerge TheOmicron variant, which studies have shown is more contagious than Delta but generally leads to less serious infection among vaccinated individuals, has raised long-awaited hopes that Covid-19 will begin to transition from a pandemic to a more manageable endemic disease such as seasonal flu .

But Kluge warned that it was still too early to consider Covid-19 as endemic.

“There is a lot of talk about endemic but endemic means … that it is possible to predict what will happen. This virus has surprised (us) more than once so we have to be very careful,” said Kluge.

With Omicron spreading so wide, other variants may still emerge, he warned.

EU Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton, whose mandate includes vaccine production, said on Sunday that it would be possible to adapt existing vaccines to all new variants that may emerge.

“We will be able to withstand better, even against new variants,” he told French television channel LCI.

“We will be ready to adapt the vaccines, especially mRNA, if necessary to adapt them to more virulent variants.”

In the WHO’s European Region, which includes 53 countries, including several in Central Asia, Omicron represented 15 percent of the new cases on January 18, compared with 6.3 percent a week earlier, the health agency said.

Focus on “minimizing disruption” Omicron is now the dominant variant in the European Union and the European Economic Area (EEA, or Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein), the EU health authority ECDC said last week.

Due to the very rapid spread of the variant across Europe, Kluge said the emphasis should be on “minimizing disruption to hospitals, schools and the economy, and making huge efforts to protect the vulnerable”, rather than measures to stop the transmission.

At the same time, he urged people to take personal responsibility.

“If you are not feeling well, stay home, take a self-test. If you are positive, isolate yourself,” he said.

Kluge said the priority was to stabilize the situation in Europe, where vaccination levels extend across countries from 25 to 95 percent of the population, leading to varying degrees of strain on hospitals and healthcare systems.

“Stabilization means that the health system is no longer overwhelmed by Covid-19 and can continue with the necessary health services, which unfortunately have been severely disrupted by cancer, cardiovascular disease and routine immunization.”

When asked if a fourth dose would be necessary to end the pandemic, Kluge was careful and only said that “we know that immunity jumps up after each vaccination injection”.

The pandemic has so far killed nearly 5.6 million people worldwide, according to official figures compiled by AFP, 1.7 million of them in Europe.


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