The Omicron variant has moved the Covid-19 pandemic into a new phase and could bring it to an end in Europe, the WHO Europe director has said.
â€œItâ€™s plausible that the region is moving towards a kind of pandemic endgame,â€ Hans Kluge told AFP, adding that Omicron could infect 60% of Europeans by March.
Once the current surge of Omicron sweeping across Europe subsides, â€œthere 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 seasonalityâ€.
â€œWe anticipate that there will be a period of quiet before Covid-19 may come back towards the end of the year, but not necessarily the pandemic coming back,â€ Kluge said.
Top US scientist Anthony Fauci expressed similar optimism on Sunday, telling ABC News talk show â€œThis Weekâ€ that with Covid-19 cases coming down â€œrather sharplyâ€ in parts of the United States, â€œthings are looking goodâ€.
While cautioning against over confidence, he said that if the recent fall in case numbers in areas like the USâ€™s northeast continued, â€œI believe that you will start to see a turnaround throughout the entire countryâ€.
The WHO regional office for Africa also said last week that cases of Covid 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.
The Omicron variant, which studies have shown is more contagious than Delta but generally leads to less severe infection among vaccinated people, has raised long-awaited hopes that Covid-19 is starting to shift from a pandemic to a more manageable endemic illness like seasonal flu.
But Kluge cautioned that it was still too early to consider Covid-19 endemic.
â€œThere is a lot of talk about endemic but endemic means … that it is possible to predict whatâ€™s going to happen. This virus has surprised (us) more than once so we have to be very careful,â€ Kluge said.
With Omicron spreading so widely, other variants could still emerge, he warned.