An exit from the Covid-19 pandemic could be looming in Europe, two years after the appearance of this disease in the old continent where Omicron could have infected 60% of the population by March, the World Health Organization estimated this Sunday. Health (WHO). ).
“It is plausible that the region is approaching the end of the pandemic,” WHO Europe director Hans Kluge told AFP, urging caution, however, given the versatility of the virus.
“Once the Omicron wave subsides, there will be general immunity for a few weeks and a few months, either because of the vaccine or because people will be immune due to infection, and also a decrease due to seasonality,” he said.
The WHO then expects “a period of calm before perhaps the return of Covid-19 towards the end of the year, but not necessarily the return of the pandemic.”
In South Africa, where this variant was first sequenced, there has been a downward trend in the number of new cases over the past four weeks.
With the same cautious optimism, the White House adviser on the health crisis, Anthony Fauci, judged on Sunday that a “change” in the situation in the United States could be expected.
– There is no “endemic time” –
There is no question of immediately speaking of “an endemic era”, which would allow the virus to be treated in the same way as a seasonal flu, the UN official warned.
“Endemic means (…) that one can predict what is going to happen. This virus has surprised more than once. That is why you have to be very careful,” especially since until now Omicron has been dominant in countries with high coverage vaccination, Kluge insisted. .
In addition to the persistence of Delta, additional variants could emerge.
“We will resist much better, including new variants,” said Thierry Breton, the European commissioner for the internal market, on Sunday on the French television channel LCI.
“We will be ready to adapt vaccines, especially messenger RNA ones, if necessary” and “deal with a virulent variant,” he said.
In the WHO Europe region, which has 53 countries, some of which are located in Central Asia, Omicron accounted for 15% of new Covid cases on January 18, much more than the previous week, according to data from The OMS.
According to projections presented by the World Health Organization, 60% of Europeans could be infected with Omicron by March 1.
In the 27 member countries of the EU, as well as in Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway, this variant appeared at the end of November, more contagious than Delta but less virulent, especially among vaccinated people, which is now dominant according to the European health agency .
As for Russia, it announced on Sunday a new daily record for coronavirus infections for the third consecutive day, a differential due to Omicron
– Evolution of public policies –
With the explosion in the number of contaminations, it is now a matter of modifying public policies to “minimize inconvenience and (…) protect the vulnerable” and no longer focus only on reducing transmission, Hans Kluge has judged.
In this context, he called for everyone’s responsibility.
“Each one must be their own risk manager,” he summarized. “If you don’t feel well, stay home, get tested. If it’s positive, isolate yourself.”
The objective is to stabilize the health situation throughout Europe, where the gaps in vaccination against Covid are colossal, ranging between 25 and 95% of the population depending on the country in the region, which can lead to varying degrees of overcrowding. in hospitals.
“Stabilizing means that the health system is no longer overwhelmed by Covid-19 and can continue to provide essential health services, which have unfortunately been greatly disrupted, in the areas of cancer, cardiovascular disease and vaccination,” Kluge insisted.
For the director of Europe of the WHO, “this is not the time to play Russian roulette. People are still very encouraged to get vaccinated, to take a booster dose and to follow preventive measures”.
The city of Beijing has announced in this regard that it will examine all the inhabitants of a district this Sunday after the discovery of an epidemic focus, less than two weeks before the start of the Winter Olympics in the Chinese capital.
But, illustrating the difficulty that the measures adopted to combat the pandemic are accepted everywhere, on the same day, in Brussels, clashes broke out between the police and opponents of the restrictive measures, during a demonstration that brought together tens of thousands. of people.
When also asked about the need for a fourth dose to reach the end of the pandemic tunnel, Mr. Kluge was cautious, noting, however, that “immunity increases after each inoculation of the vaccine”.
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