The Covid-19 pandemic has entered a new phase with the Omicron variant, which could infect 60% of people in Europe by March, but could also bring it to an end, the Director for Europe of the World Health Organisation (WHO) has said.
‘It’s plausible that the region is moving towards a kind of pandemic endgame,’ Hans Kluge said, yet still urging caution due to the virus’ ability to mutate.
In a statement issued in Copenhagen on Monday, coinciding with it being two years since the virus was first detected in Europe, Kluge said: ‘On this day two years ago, France reported the first confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the region. Fast forward 732 days to the present, and we should be proud of how far we have come and how much we have learned and adapted to this once-in-a-generation crisis.’
‘Although Omicron offers plausible hope for stabilisation and normalisation, our work is not done,’ he warned.
‘This pandemic, like all other pandemics before it, will end, but it is far too early to relax,’ he said. ‘With the millions of infections occurring in the world in recent and coming weeks, coupled with waning immunity and winter seasonality, it is almost a given that new Covid-19 variants will emerge and return.’
He went on to say that ‘strong surveillance and monitoring of new variants, high vaccination uptake and third doses, ventilation, affordable equitable access to antivirals, targeted testing, and shielding high-risk groups with high-quality masks and physical distancing if and when a new variant appears’ … that a new wave ‘could no longer require the return to pandemic-era, population-wide lockdowns or similar measures’.
He said: ‘We mourn the more than 1.7 million people in the European region who are no longer with us. Gains in poverty reduction have been reversed, with more than 4 million people in the region now pushed under the $5.50 a day poverty line … and that children’s education and mental well-being have suffered immensely.’
He also paid tribute to health workers, ‘who have borne the brunt of this crisis and continue to put themselves in harm’s way in the service of their patients’. However, he also added that ‘we cannot say that they have come out intact’, explaining that research shows that as many as 43% of frontline health workers are experiencing ‘significant levels of anxiety, and a large proportion of clinical staff working in intensive care now meet the clinical threshold for post-traumatic stress disorder’.
Today, as we mark two years of the #COVID19 pandemic in Europe and Central Asia, we could be entering a new phase driven by the #Omicron variant, with plausible hope for stabilization. But it is still too early to drop our guard. 1/thread— Hans Kluge (@hans_kluge) January 24, 2022
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