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More than half of Europe's population could become infected with omicron within weeks at current transmission speeds, a World Health Organization official said.
The fast-spreading variant represents a "west-to-east tsunami sweeping the region," Hans Kluge, WHO regional director for Europe, said in a briefing Tuesday.
He cited the Institute for Metrics and Health Assessment forecast that most Europeans could take it within the next six to eight weeks.
The latest Covid surge has resulted in fewer symptomatic cases and lower death rates than in previous waves, fueling optimism that the pandemic may subside.
However, the WHO has repeatedly warned against underestimating the Omicron strain as mild. Kluge said hospital admission rates are increasing. In Europe, it puts pressure on health systems.
On the flip side, another WHO official said it was too early to consider COVID-19 is entering an endemic phase, an issue the Spanish government has proposed to discuss. An endemic phase would see "stable spread of the virus at a predictable level", but what we are currently seeing for 2022 is nowhere near that, "said Catherine Smallwood, WHO Europe Chief Emergency Officer." We still have great uncertainty.
We still have a virus that evolves pretty quickly and brings new challenges, "he said." We are certainly not at the point where we can call it endemic.