On Tuesday, the World Health Organization’s (WHO’s) European chief Dr Hans Kluge warned that COVID-19 cases would surge as Omicron spreads. He also advised that boosters be made widely available to protect against the disease.
At least 38 of the 53 countries in WHO’s European region have detected Omicron since its appearance in late November, said Dr Kluge at a news conference in Vienna. It is already dominant in several countries, including Denmark, Portugal, and the United Kingdom. There have been cuts in post-Christmas shopping and greater social distancing measures in countries such as Germany and Portugal. In his warning, the WHO’s top official said the surge would push health systems towards collapse.
“We can see another storm coming,” said Dr Kluge. “Within weeks, Omicron will dominate in more countries of the region, pushing already stretched health systems further to the brink,” he said, as per India Today.
The German government has announced that nightclubs in the country will close from December 28, and there will be a limit of 10 people in private gatherings. Furthermore, all football games after that date will take place behind closed doors. The Portuguese government has ordered bars and clubs to close from December 26, and has made working from home mandatory from that date until January 9. A maximum of 10 people would be allowed for outdoor gatherings.
Despite UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s assurances that no new social mixing restrictions would be implemented in England before Christmas, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland have all announced tighter restrictions.
The Swedish government is asking people to work from home if possible as most bars, cafes, and restaurants will only be able to serve seated guests from Wednesday. Health Minister Lena Hallengren said that the number of Omicron cases will increase, warning of the burden faced by the healthcare system.
While the Netherlands has already tightened restrictions after announcing a strict lockdown on Monday, a BBC Europe report says that other European leaders want to delay tighter restrictions until after the festive season if possible.
The COVID pandemic has already caused 1.5 million deaths in Europe out of 89 million reported cases, according to the latest European Union statistics. WHO data indicate that the region has had the highest number of COVID-19 cases relative to its size in recent weeks. Authorities had reportedly warned that another 700,000 people could die from the disease before the surge in cases due to the Omicron variant began.
Dr Kluge has urged people to “boost, boost, boost,” despite advice from the WHO headquarters in Geneva that boosters be saved for the most vulnerable population. According to him, a booster shot is the best defence against Omicron.
A WHO spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Dr Kluge’s remarks. The organisation has, however, reported that Omicron is spreading faster than the Delta variant, causing infections in people who have already been vaccinated or recovered from the disease. According to the company’s chief scientist, it would be unwise to conclude that it is a mild variant as compared to previous ones based on early findings.
According to Dr Kluge, 89 percent of early Omicron cases in Europe have been associated with COVID-19 symptoms such as cough, sore throat, and fever. Most cases have been reported among adults in their 20s and 30s, spreading initially in cities at social and workplace gatherings. “The sheer volume of new COVID-19 infections could lead to more hospitalisations and widespread disruption to health systems and other critical services,” he said. He further added, “Governments and authorities need to prepare our response systems for a significant surge.”