Two years after the outbreak of Covid-19, Europe could soon enter a ‘long period of tranquility’ due to high vaccination rates, the milder Omicron variant and the end of winter, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Thursday.
WHO Europe director Hans Kluge said the respite was ‘a ceasefire that could bring us enduring peace’. ‘This context leaves us with the possibility for a long period of tranquility,’ he told reporters on Thursday.
Widespread immunity from vaccines and infections, combined with the change of season, also puts Europe in a better position to fend off any resurgence in transmission, he said. ‘Even with a more virulent variant’ than Omicron, Kluge added.
‘It is possible to respond to new variants that will inevitably emerge — without re-installing the kind of disruptive measures we needed before,’ Kluge said.
‘I wish to reiterate the firm call I made last week,’ he said, ‘which is indeed referring to a plausible endgame for the pandemic – not to say that it is now all over – but to highlight that in the European Region, there is a singular opportunity to take control of the transmission.’
He cautioned that the optimistic scenario would only hold true if countries continued their vaccination campaigns and intensified surveillance to detect new variants. He also urged health authorities to protect risk groups and to promote individual responsibility, such as social distancing and face mask wearing.
With the more contagious Omicron variant in circulation, infections have surged across the WHO’s European region, which comprises 53 countries, including some in central Asia.
Some 12 million new cases were registered last week in the region, according to the WHO, the highest level since the start of the pandemic.
But faced with a lower level of hospitalisations than in previous waves, several European countries, including Spain, France, Ireland and the UK, have announced the lifting or a considerable reduction of restrictions, despite record or very high cases.
Denmark on Tuesday became the first European Union country to lift its domestic Covid-19 restrictions, followed later in the day by Norway.
Speaking on the eve of World Cancer Day, Kluge also expressed concern over the ‘catastrophic impact’ the pandemic has had on cancer care around the world. In the last three months of 2021, cancer screenings and treatments were disrupted by 5 to 50% in all countries surveyed, he said.
‘The situation has improved since the first quarter of last year,’ he said. ‘But the knock-on effect of this disruption will be felt for years.’
He urged Europe’s healthcare authorities to take advantage of the expected seasonal Covid lull to reduce backlogs in chronic care services.
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