Over half of Europe’s population predicted to catch Omicron in next six to eight weeks
The WHO Europe Director said Omicron represents a "new west to east tidal wave" sweeping across the region.
Over half of Europe's population is forecasted to catch the Omicron variant of Covid-19 in the next six to eight weeks, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).
The WHO's Regional Director for Europe Hans Kluge made the comments during a briefing on Tuesday (11 January) regarding the virus situation in the continent.
"We have entered 2022 with the countries of Europe and central Asia still under intense pressure from Covid-19," he said.
"Today, the Omicron variant represents a new west to east tidal wave sweeping across the region, on top of the Delta surge that all countries were managing until late 2021.
"The region saw over 7 million newly reported cases of Covid-19 in the first week of 2022, more than doubling over a two-week period.
"As of 10 January, 26 countries report that over 1% of their population is catching Covid-19 each week."
Kluge stated that 50 of the 53 countries in Europe and central Asia have now reported cases of Omicron.
He said it is quickly becoming the dominant strain in western Europe and is now spreading into the Balkans.
"At this rate, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) forecasts that more than 50% of the population in the region will be infected with Omicron in the next six to eight weeks," Kluge added.
At this rate, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) @IHME_UW forecasts that more than 50% of the population in the Region will be infected with Omicron in the next 6-8 weeks @hans_kluge
— WHO/Europe (@WHO_Europe) January 11, 2022
The director said that though currently approved Covid vaccines do continue to provide protection against severe disease and death, the "unprecedented scale" of Omicron transmission is bringing a rise in Covid hospitalisations which is challenging health systems in many countries.
In order to manage the impact of the variant on health services, economies and societies, Kluge had three messages.
He warned countries not yet hit by the Omicron surge that there is a closing window of opportunity to "act now and plan for contingencies".
For countries where the Omicron surge has begun, Kluge said the priority should be to "avoid and reduce harm among the vulnerable and minimise disruption to health systems and essential services".
On the topic of schools, the director stated that keeping them open has important benefits for children’s mental, social and educational well-being.
"Schools should be the last places to close and the first to reopen," he said.