The World Health Organization’s European region director says that while COVID-19 cases on the continent continue to rise, he sees a plausible endgame for the pandemic in Europe in coming months.
Speaking during his weekly virtual news briefing from his headquarters in Copenhagen, WHO Europe Region Director Hans Kluge told reporters the region recorded 12 million cases in the past week, the highest weekly case incidence since the start of the pandemic, largely driven by the omicron variant.
But Kluge said, while hospitalizations continue to rise - mainly in countries with lower vaccination rates — they have not risen as fast as the rate of new infection, and admissions to intensive care units have not increased significantly. Meanwhile, deaths from COVID-19 have remained steady.
Kluge said the pandemic is far from over, but, for the first time, he sees what he called an opportunity to take control of transmission of disease because of the presence of three factors: an ample supply of vaccine plus immunity derived from a large number of people having had COVID-19; the favorable change of the seasons as the region moves out of winter; and the now-established lower severity of the omicron variant.
The WHO regional director said those factors present the possibility of “a long period of tranquility” and a much higher level of population defense against any resurgence in transmission, even with the more virulent omicron variant.
Kluge called it “a cease-fire that could bring us enduring peace,” but only if nations continue vaccinating and boosting, focusing on the most vulnerable populations, and people continue “self-protecting behavior,” such as masking and social distancing, though he added, "with lower governmental oversight to limit unnecessary socio-economic impacts.”
More nations in Europe are scaling back or removing government-imposed COVID-19-related restrictions.
Kluge said officials need to intensify surveillance to detect new variants. He said new strains are inevitable, but he believes it is possible to respond to them without the disruptive measures that were needed early in the pandemic.
Some information in this report came from the Associated Press.