The World Health Organization has warned that half of Europe will have been infected with the Omicron variant of Covid-19 within six to eight weeks.
Dr. Hans Kluge described a “west-to-east tidal wave” of Omicron sweeping across the region, on top of the Delta variant’s already-present surge.
The forecast was based on seven million new cases reported in Europe in the first week of 2022.
In a two-week period, the number of infections more than doubled.
“Today, the Omicron variant represents a new west-to-east tidal wave, sweeping across the region on top of the Delta surge, which all countries were managing until late 2021,” Dr Kluge said at a press conference.
According to him, European and Central Asian countries are still under “intense pressure” as the virus spreads from Western countries into the Balkans.
“How each country responds now must be informed by its epidemiological situation, available resources, vaccination uptake status, and socioeconomic context,” he added.
According to recent research, Omicron is less likely to cause serious illness than previous Covid variants. Omicron, on the other hand, is highly contagious and can infect people even if they are fully vaccinated.
The unprecedented number of people infected has put a strain on health-care systems.
The UK reported 142,224 confirmed cases of the virus and 77 deaths on Monday. Due to staff absences and rising pressures caused by Covid, a number of hospitals have declared “critical” incidents.
Hospital admissions are also on the rise elsewhere. Last week, France’s Health Minister, Olivier Veran, warned that January would be difficult for hospitals.
He went on to say that Omicron patients were taking up “conventional” hospital beds, whereas Delta was putting a strain on ICU departments.
In eastern Europe, Poland reported that 100,000 people had died as a result of the virus since the outbreak began. Poland now has the world’s sixth-highest Covid-19 mortality rate, and nearly 40% of its population is unvaccinated.
Pfizer announced on Monday that it would be able to launch a version of its vaccine that offers special protection against Omicron in March. According to health experts, it is not yet clear whether this is necessary.