The Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2 has moved the COVID-19 pandemic into a new phase and could bring it to an end in Europe, WHO Regional Director for Europe Hans Kluge said on Sunday.
“It’s plausible that the region is moving toward a kind of pandemic endgame,” Hans Kluge said in an interview, adding that Omicron could infect 60 percent of Europeans by March.
Once the current surge of Omicron sweeping across Europe subsides, “there will be for quite some weeks and months a global immunity, either thanks to the vaccine or because people have immunity due to the infection, and also lowering seasonality,” Kluge said.
“We anticipate that there will be a period of quiet before COVID-19 may come back toward the end of the year, but not necessarily the pandemic coming back,” he said.
US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci expressed similar optimism on Sunday, telling ABC News talk show This Week that with COVID-19 cases declining “rather sharply” in parts of the US, “things are looking good.”
While cautioning against overconfidence, he said that if the fall in case numbers in areas such as the US’ northeast continued, “I believe that you will start to see a turnaround throughout the entire country.”
Last week, the WHO Regional Office for Africa also said that cases of COVID-19 had plummeted in that region and deaths were declining for the first time since the Omicron-dominated fourth wave of the virus reached its peak.
Omicron is the dominant variant in the EU and the European Economic Area, or Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein, the European Centre for Disease Control and Prevention said last week.
Because of the very fast spread of the variant across Europe, Kluge said that emphasis ought to be on “minimising disruption of hospitals, schools and the economy, and putting huge efforts on protecting the vulnerable,” rather than measures to stop transmission.
However, he urged people to exercise personal responsibility.
“If you don’t feel well, stay home, take a self-test. If you’re positive, isolate,” he said.
Kluge said that the priority is to stabilize the situation in Europe, where vaccination levels range across countries from 25 to 95 percent of the population, leading to varying degrees of strain on hospitals and healthcare systems.
“Stabilizing means that the health system is no longer overwhelmed ... and can continue with the essential health services,” he said.
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