WHO says COVID Pandemic Entering New Phase in Europe
The COVID pandemic is entering a new phase in Europe, according to Dr Hans Henri P. Kluge, WHO Regional Director for Europe.
In a statement, Dr. Kluge referred to the impact the Omicron variant has had in moving the pandemic to a new phase and that Europe could see an end to the emergency phase in 2022.
However, he warned that the pandemic is far from over and referenced the massive disparities in vaccine accessibility across the globe.
The Omicron variant has replaced the Delta variant with unprecedented speed and according to WHO statistics now accounts for 31.8% of cases across the European Region, up from 15% the previous week, and 6.3% the week before that.
Dr. Kluge said, “While Omicron appears to cause much less severe disease than Delta, we are still seeing a rapid rise in hospitalizations, due to the sheer number of infections. This is in addition to a Delta burden that has not entirely passed, and also to the high number of incidental admissions. Fortunately, hospitalizations with Omicron result much less frequently in ICU admission. As predicted, most people needing intensive care across the Region are unvaccinated.”
Dr. Kluge called for 2022 to be the year of ‘vaccine equity’ saying, “Although Omicron offers plausible hope for stabilization and normalization, our work is not done. Huge disparities in access to vaccines remain. If 2021 was the year of vaccine production, 2022 must be the year of vaccine equity in the European Region and beyond. 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 also spoke about the long-term impacts of COVID on health care provision and the creation of additional challenges in healthcare including the disruption of health care services, and the backlogs and waiting lists that have been created over the last two years as focus shifted to dealing with the crisis.
He said, “…Gains in poverty reduction have been reversed, with more than 4 million people in the Region now pushed under the US$ 5.50 a day poverty line. Children’s education and mental well-being have suffered immensely.”
Despite the massive progress that has been made in vaccine production and distribution, Dr. Kluge warned that the time has not yet come for people to relax but that he believed a return to widespread lockdowns as a result of new variants is unlikely.
“This pandemic, like all other pandemics before it, will end, but it is far too early to relax. With the millions of infections occurring in the world in recent and coming weeks, coupled with waning immunity and winter seasonality, it is almost a given that new COVID-19 variants will emerge and return. But with strong surveillance and monitoring of new variants, high vaccination uptake and third doses, ventilation, affordable equitable access to antivirals, targeted testing, and shielding high-risk groups with high-quality masks and physical distancing if and when a new variant appears, I believe that a new wave could no longer require the return to pandemic-era, population-wide lockdowns or similar measures.”
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