The pandemic that has shaken the world for more than two years is entering a “new phase” globally, and the rapid spread of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus offers “plausible hope” of a return to normalcy in the coming months , according to the World Health Organization. The organization’s top official in Europe said in a statement released Monday.
dr. Hans Kluge, the WHO’s European Region director, warned it was too early for countries to lose vigilance, but he said that between vaccination and natural immunity from infection, “Omicron offers plausible hopes for stabilization and normalization.”
His comments echoed the optimism of other leading public health officials around the world, including Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, President Biden’s chief medical adviser for the coronavirus.
dr. Fauci said on Sunday that while there would be pain in the coming weeks, especially as Omicron moves through the unvaccinated, the hope was that the continued spread of Omicron would not disrupt society to the same extent as other variants of the coronavirus have. The past two years.
dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the head of WHO, said it remains the collective responsibility of the world to end the pandemic.
“There are different scenarios for how the pandemic could turn out and how the acute phase could end. But it is dangerous to assume that Omicron will be the last variant or that we are in the endgame,” he said at a board meeting of the global health organization on Monday. “On the contrary, worldwide conditions are ideal for more variants to emerge.”
Given that the virus has presented new surprises and challenges during the pandemic, Dr. Kluge also a mix of caution and optimism.
“The pandemic is far from over, but I am hopeful that we can end the emergency phase in 2022 and address other health threats that urgently require our attention,” wrote Dr. kluge. “Backlogs and waiting lists have grown, essential health services have been disrupted and plans and preparations for climate-related health challenges and shocks have been shelved.”
The WHO’s European Region includes more than just the European Union. It includes 53 countries, covering a vast geographical area, from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean. Omicron has spread across the area from west to east, to countries where vaccination rates are lower.
“Although Omicron appears to cause much less severe disease than Delta, we are still seeing a rapid increase in hospital admissions, due to the sheer number of infections,” wrote Dr. kluge. “Fortunately, hospital admissions with Omicron are much less likely to result in ICU admission. As predicted, most people in need of intensive care across the region have not been vaccinated.”
He urged countries to step up vaccination campaigns.
“Too many people who need the vaccine don’t stay vaccinated,” he said. “This will help boost transmission, prolong the pandemic and increase the likelihood of new variants.”
Two years ago today – January 24, 2020 – the first case of coronavirus in Europe was discovered in France. dr. Kluge noted the toll the virus had taken in the 732 days that followed.
About 1.7 million deaths in the region have been attributed to Covid – equivalent to 99 people dying every hour of every day, according to WHO estimates.
In addition, more than four million people in the region have been pushed into poverty, meaning they earn less than $5.50 a day. Frontline health workers have experienced significant levels of anxiety, and the WHO cited a study showing that about 40 percent of personnel working in intensive care units met the clinical threshold for post-traumatic stress disorder.
“This pandemic, like all the other pandemics before it, will end, but it is far too early to relax,” said Dr. kluge. He added that it was “almost a given that new Covid-19 variants will appear and return.”
But the world was in a much better place to deal with what might come, he noted.
“I believe another wave could no longer require the return to population-wide lockdowns or similar pandemic-era measures,” he said.