WHO: Omicron could infect half of Europe by end-March

GENEVA, 11 Jan 2022:

At the current rate of transmission, over half the population of Europe will have contracted the Covid-19 omicron variant in the next 6-8 weeks, the World Health Organisation (WHO) forecast today.

“At this rate, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation forecasts that more than 50% of the population in the region will be infected with omicron in the next 6-8 weeks,” WHO-Europe director Hans Kluge said, citing University of Washington data.

Kluge told reporters at a press conference that 53 countries in the WHO European region – which includes several from Central Asia – have reported that more than 1% of their population catching coronavirus each week.

Of the total number of countries in the region, 50 have already registered cases of omicron, which is rapidly becoming the dominant variant in Western Europe and is now spreading in the Balkans.

“Data collected in recent weeks confirms that omicron is highly transmissible because the mutations it has allow it to adhere to human cells more easily and it can infect even those who have been previously infected or vaccinated,” Kluge said.

Vaccines continue to provide good protection but the “unprecedented scale of transmission” has led to an increase in hospitalisations.

Kluge added that the rate of infection was challenging healthcare systems and that healthcare personnel, caregivers and other essential workers were bearing “the greatest burden” and were the most exposed to the virus.

The regional director urged countries of the region that had not yet been hit by the new variant to implement prevention and safety measures – including the use of high-quality masks indoors, encouraging people to get fully vaccinated and boosted and to prepare response systems such as ensuring a broad availability of rapid testing kits.

In countries already grappling with an omicron wave, the priority should be to protect vulnerable groups and minimise disruptions to health care and essential services.