More than half of Europe would contract omicron in the coming weeks, WHO warns

More than 50% of the European population could contract omicron in the next two months if the current rate of infections is maintained, the WHO warned this Tuesday, January 11, 2022, when exactly two years have passed since the first death officially attributed to the COVID-19 in China.

The highly contagious variant has spread through countries very quickly, forcing different governments to reimpose strict measures and speed up vaccination programs. Europe is at the epicenter of this alarming rebound.

“At this rate, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) of the University of Washington predicts that more than 50% of the region’s population will have been infected with the omicron variant in the next six or eight weeks”, said the director of the WHO Europe region, Hans Kluge.

Kluge stressed that this variant has several mutations “capable of binding more easily to human cells” and affecting people who have already suffered from the coronavirus and are vaccinated.

The WHO Europe region includes 53 countries and territories, including some in Central Asia.

For the director of the region, this “unprecedented” transmission of the virus translates into an increase in hospital admissions, but not an increase in mortality.

“There are a much higher number of asymptomatic cases,” he noted, underscoring the effectiveness of vaccines.

But nevertheless, WHO assures that for now the virus cannot be classified as endemic as with the flu.

“We have a rapidly evolving virus right now that poses new challenges. We are not at a time when it can be described as endemic ”, explained the person in charge of emergency situations at WHO Europe, Catherine Smallwood.

The warning in Europe comes exactly two years after the death of a 61-year-old man in the Chinese city of Wuhan, considered until today the first person to die from COVID-19, a disease that then still had no name and was considered a strange pneumonia

Since that January 11, 2020, the balance has grown to almost 5.5 million deaths worldwide, according to official data, surely much lower than the real ones.

A few months after its appearance in Wuhan, China brought the pandemic under control with a mix of lockdowns, border closures and massive screening, but recent outbreaks put this strategy on the line, weeks before the Beijing Winter Olympics.

Authorities in the city of Anyang, in central Henan province, on Monday ordered its five million residents to stay at home and not drive in private vehicles, the official Xinhua agency said.

For its part, Japan extended until the end of February the restrictions that prevent almost all arrivals from abroad.

Health experts insist that vaccines remain the most effective weapon against the pandemic.

But, this Tuesday, WHO experts warned that the mere repetition of booster vaccines will not be enough to prevent the appearance of variants and urged to improve immunizers to stop the transmission of the disease.

“A vaccination strategy based on repeated booster doses” of the first vaccines “has little chance of being appropriate or feasible,” the WHO Technical Advisory Group (TAG) on the composition of vaccines against the new vaccine said in a statement. coronavirus.

For its part, the World Bank published its forecasts on Tuesday, predicting a slowdown in growth this year and warning that the situation could be aggravated by the impact of omicron, which is spreading rapidly, accentuating labor shortages and logistics problems.

The institution revised down its forecast for global GDP growth for 2022 by 0.2 percentage points, to 4.1% after the 5.5% registered in 2021.

But it is possible that “the economic disturbances caused by omicron could further reduce global growth this year, by an additional 0.2 to 0.7 percentage points”, to 3.9% or even 3.4%, according to the agency.

In addition, this Tuesday inequality in access to vaccines was again denounced, with the World Economic Forum warning that this gap could weaken the fight against other global challenges, such as climate change.

The global divergence in access to vaccines “will create tensions – within States and between States -, which could aggravate the effects of the pandemic and complicate the coordination necessary to face common challenges,” the foundation warned. headquarters in Geneva, in the 17th annual edition of its Global Risk Report.

With information from AFP