Europe and the Central Asia region are entering a new phase in the coronavirus pandemic, as the Omicron variant displaces Delta, that could lead to a more stable situation, said Hans Kluge, director of the World Health Organization’s Europe region.
“The pandemic is far from over, but I am hopeful we can end the emergency phase in 2022 and address other health threats that urgently require our attention,” Kluge said in a statement to the media on Monday marking two years of the pandemic in Europe.
The WHO director warned, however, that although the Omicron variant was less dangerous than Delta, high infection rates were still causing hospitalizations to rise, though these translated to less frequent admission to intensive care units.
Kluge noted that the variant now accounts for 31.8 percent of cases in the WHO’s Europe region, compared with 15 percent the previous week.
European governments and experts are debating whether, as the current wave of Omicron infection runs its course, it would be sensible to shift to treating the disease as endemic in Europe â€”Â where the virus circulates freely and health policy focuses more on protecting the elderly and vulnerable while most people return to living a more normal life.
Spain has signaled that it will shift toward treating the coronavirus more like other infectious diseases like influenza. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced last week that restrictions put in place in England before the holiday break would be lifted.
Other health experts hew to a more cautious line, arguing that the focus should continue to be on suppressing the coronavirus and not living with it. The emergence of new, possibly more dangerous variants remains a cause for concern.
Kluge also drew attention to the ongoing disruption of health services, with growing waiting lists and disruption to normal care. Disparities in vaccine access, meanwhile, remain concerning: “Too many people who need the vaccine remain unvaccinated. This is helping to drive transmission, prolonging the pandemic and increasing the likelihood of new variants,” he said.
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