The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that half of Europe will be infected with the omicron type of coronavirus within six to eight weeks.
Hans Kluge, the WHO’s regional director for Europe, said a “west to east” wave of Omicron was sweeping across the region, in addition to the wave of the delta variant already on the continent.
The projection was based on 7 million new cases reported across Europe in the first week of 2022.
The number of infections doubled in a two-week period.
“Today the Omicron variant represents a new wave from west to east (Europe) sweeping the region at the height of the delta wave (alternative) that all countries were running by the end of 2021,” Kluge told a news conference.
He cited data from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation in Seattle as projecting that “more than 50% of the European population will have oomicrons in the next six to eight weeks.”
Kluge said European and Central Asian countries were still under “extreme stress” as the virus spread from Western countries to the Balkans.
“The way each country responds now must be based on its epidemiological situation, available resources, vaccination status, and socioeconomic context,” he added.
Recent studies indicate that omicrons are less likely to cause people serious illness than previous variants of the COVID-19 virus. But this type of virus is highly contagious and can infect people who have already been vaccinated.
The record number of infections – 3.2 million people in the past 24 hours – has put health systems under severe strain.
As of Monday, the UK had reported 142,224 confirmed cases of infection and 77 deaths. Several hospitals have declared a “critical condition” due to the lack of staff and overcrowding of COVID-19 patients.
Elsewhere, the number of collapsing hospitals is also increasing. French Health Minister Olivier Veran warned last week that January would be difficult for hospitals.
He added that Omicron patients were occupying “traditional” beds in hospitals, while others with the delta-type were filling intensive care departments.
In Eastern Europe, Poland has reported 100,000 deaths from the virus in the country since the start of the pandemic. Poland now has the sixth highest mortality rate in the world, and nearly 40% of its population remains unvaccinated.
In Russia, Anna Popova, a senior health official, said during a meeting of the state anti-coronavirus agency that without taking measures to control the spread of the variant, the daily number of new Covid cases could reach 100,000.
According to Reuters news agency, the daily infection rate has recently decreased – the peak was recorded at 41,335 daily cases in early November.
Popova said 305 known cases of the omicron variant have been detected so far in 13 regions of the country. Russia has recorded at least 311,281 deaths and 10.5 million cases of coronavirus so far.
Pharmaceutical company Pfizer said Monday it may release a version of its vaccine that offers special protection against the omicron variant, to be made available in March. Health experts say it is still not clear if this is necessary.
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