Mon. Jan 24th, 2022

The World Health Organization said countries were “a way away” from treating coronavirus as endemic, as a top official warned that more than half of Europe’s population could be infected with Omicron within the next two months.

Hans Kluge, the WHO’s regional director for Europe, said “due to the unprecedented scale of transfer” Europe is now seeing rising rates of hospitalization.

“This is a challenge for healthcare systems and service delivery in many countries where Omicron has spread rapidly and threatens to overwhelm many more,” he said.

Many European countries have registered record cases in recent weeks, although hospitalizations have been lower than in previous waves due to the impact of vaccines and previous infection.

He added that if cases continued to spread at the current rate, more than half of the European population would be infected with Omicron in the next six to eight weeks.

Catherine Smallwood, senior emergency officer at WHO Europe, said although coronavirus could become endemic “over time”, it was’ a bit difficult to make that change in 2022.

She spoke after Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez on Monday called for a change in approach that would allow coronavirus to become endemic.

“We are heading for an endemic disease rather than the pandemic it has been so far,” Sánchez told Spain’s Cadena Ser radio. “We need to respond to this situation with new tools that are more closely linked to vaccination, to mask protection, to institutional cooperation, the contribution of science and international solidarity.”

But Smallwood said there must be ‘stable circulation of the virus at predictable levels and potentially known and predictable waves of epidemic transmission’ before Covid can be treated as endemic.

“What we’re seeing at the moment is nowhere near that,” she said.

The move to endemic status has largely depended on widespread vaccination on a global fair basis, but Smallwood said the world is also “another way off”. About half of WHO’s member states have missed the 40 percent Covid immunization target by 2021, the health body said.

Catherine Smallwood

Catherine Smallwood of the WHO said that although coronavirus could ‘become endemic’ over time, it was ‘a little difficult’ to make this change this year.

“Part of it is due to the virus that keeps developing and Omicron has a specific partial immune [evasion], ”Smallwood said. “It causes epidemics and it causes a very rapid increase in the circulation of the virus. We can therefore not call it an endemic disease condition. “

Treating the virus as endemic, she added, would require evidence of stable transmission rates so that countries do not have to rely on measures such as restrictions and other restrictions to maintain stability.

“We really have to hold back from acting as if it were endemic before the virus itself acts as if it is endemic,” she said.

In the two years since coronavirus was identified in Europe, governments have become increasingly aware of the political costs associated with any coronavirus-related restrictions.

In Spain, that dissatisfaction was highlighted by last year’s re-election victory of Isabel Diaz Ayuso, leader of the Madrid region, who has repeatedly pushed back against government attempts to impose more curbs. The country’s courts have also ruled against the emergency powers exercised by the government in 2020 and 2021, further reducing the tools at its disposal.

“The situation is not what it was a year ago,” Sánchez said. “We know the virus better. . . while we wait for what studies say about Omicron, which, although more contagious, appears to be lighter. ”

Spain says it has completely vaccinated more than 90 percent of people aged 12 and older. But while its booster campaign has vaccinated 70 percent of those over 50, it has so far covered only 23 percent of 40- to 49-year-olds and has yet to start for younger age groups.

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