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More than half of people in Europe to catch Omicron, predicts WHO

The WHO's European region comprises 53 countries and territories including several in Central Asia, and Kluge noted that 50 of them had confirmed cases of the Omicron variant (Photo: Reuters)Premium
The WHO's European region comprises 53 countries and territories including several in Central Asia, and Kluge noted that 50 of them had confirmed cases of the Omicron variant (Photo: Reuters)

More than half of people in Europe are on track to contract the Omicron coronavirus variant in the next two months if infections continue at current rates, WHO regional director Hans Kluge warned

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NEW DELHI : World Health Organization regional director Hans Kluge on Tuesday said more than 50% of the European population may be infected with Omicron variant in the next 6 to 8 weeks if infections continue at current rates.

The WHO regional director said the variant represented a "new west-to-east tidal wave sweeping across" the European region. 

He said 50 of the 53 countries in Europe and central Asia have now reported cases of Omicron. It is quickly becoming the dominant variant in western Europe and is now spreading in the Balkans.

Kluge said data collated in recent weeks confirm that Omicron is highly transmissible – because the mutations it has enabled it to adhere to human cells more easily, and it can infect even those who have been previously infected or vaccinated.

He reiterated that the currently approved vaccines do continue to provide good protection against severe disease and death, including for Omicron. But because of the unprecedented scale of transmission, we are now seeing rising COVID-19 hospitalizations. 

He further said data from the UK Obstetric Surveillance System shows 96% of pregnant women admitted to hospital with COVID-19 symptoms between May and October 2021 were unvaccinated, a third of whom required respiratory support. 

The WHO regional director urged the countries not yet hit by the Omicron surge that there is a closing window of opportunity to act now and plan for contingencies. 

He asked the countries to mandate the use of high-quality masks in closed and indoor settings and ensure that vulnerable individuals have access to them. He asked to increase the supply of tests and make them widely accessible free of charge at pharmacies, workplaces and in the communities.

He further said where the Omicron surge has begun, the priority should be to avoid and reduce harm among the vulnerable, and minimize disruption to health systems and essential services.

He asked the governments to keep the schools open as it 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.

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