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More than half of Europe could catch Covid-19 in two months, WHO expert warns

Record cases of Covid-19 have put Europe under increased pressure this winter, with some countries increasing restrictions and others, such as Austria, Greece and Italy, announcing new vaccine requirements.

Dr Hans Kluge, WHO regional director for Europe, told a virtual press conference that countries in Europe and Central Asia remain “under intense pressure from Covid-19” in 2022.

“Today, the Omicron variant represents a new west-to-east tidal wave sweeping the region in addition to the delta wave that all countries were managing until the end of 2021,” he said. declared Tuesday.

“At this rate, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation predicts that more than 50% of the region’s population will be infected with Omicron within the next 6 to 8 weeks.

He called on countries not yet affected by the outbreak “to enforce the use of high-quality masks in closed and indoor environments and to ensure that vulnerable people have access to them” due to the highly transmissible variant of Omicron.

He explained that Europe has yet to see the full impact of the variant in countries “where immunization levels are lower”, and he is “deeply concerned” by the explosion of Omicron in Europe. the east where “we will see more serious disease in the unvaccinated.”

Eastern European countries have some of the lowest vaccination rates in the region despite an abundance of vaccines, according to data from the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), which tracks vaccinations in the ‘European Union.

In Bulgaria, only 28% of residents have had two doses of a Covid-19 vaccine. In Romania, this figure is 40.5%, according to ECDC data.

“For countries that have not yet been affected by the Omicron push, there is a closing window of opportunity to act now and plan for the unexpected,” Kluge warned.

Kluge used the example of Denmark, where he said Omicron cases had “exploded” in recent weeks. The Covid-19 hospitalization rate for unvaccinated Danes was six times higher than for those who were fully vaccinated in Christmas week.

Kluge’s calls come as other health authorities consider stepping up their mask guidelines to help fight Omicron. The Washington Post reported on Monday that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is considering recommending N95 or KN95 masks for those who can use them.

New terms

As school terms begin amid record increases in many European countries, Kluge stressed that they should be “the last places to close and the first to reopen.”

He acknowledged that the variant would continue to infect large numbers of people and that “schools may not be able to keep all classes open all the time, due to understaffing.”

But he stressed that “keeping schools open has significant benefits for the mental, social and educational well-being of children”, recommending that arrangements be made for “online learning alongside physical presence, so that children can continue their education when they cannot attend school in person. ”

He reiterated the WHO recommendations for educational settings: ventilation, hand hygiene and use of appropriate face masks.

Kluge added that “countries may consider revising protocols on testing, isolation and quarantine of classroom contacts to minimize disruption to learning, mitigating these risks as much as possible with good ventilation and l ‘use of a mask “.

CNN’s John Bonifield contributed to this report.


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