As the UK PM Boris Johnson contemplates imposing his “Plan B” round of restrictions on England (the other constituent nations of the UK are free to adopt their own rules and regulations surrounding COVID), other European leaders are warning against going overboard by imposing another round of lockdowns, or stringent vaccine mandates.
And when it comes to this second item, it appears the WHO agrees.
During a press briefing earlier this week, the head of the WHO’s European branch cautioned European countries against making COVID jabs mandatory while simultaneously asking that European countries find ways to better protect both adults and children (even though severe cases among children with no comorbidities are extremely rare) from the virus.
And while President Biden attempts to double down on his vaccine mandates in the US, WHO regional director Hans Kluge is asking that European nations avoid making vaccines compulsory. Instead, vaccine mandates should be “an absolute last resort and only applicable when all other feasible options to improve vaccination uptake have been exhausted.”
At any rate, the biggest COVID-related problem facing Europe isn’t omicron, but an uptick in infections involving children in the five to 14-year age group.
“It is not unusual today to see two to three times higher incidence among young children than in the average population,” Kluge told a press conference.
While infections involving children are typically mild, the health risks “extend beyond the children themselves,” Kluge said, explaining that children risk spreading the virus to parents and grandparents at home.
As for the question of vaccine mandates, Kluge said information is “context specific” and added that the effect mandates have on “public confidence and public trust” must also be considered.
Instead of imposing mandates, “vaccinating children should be discussed and considered nationally” in each European nation, Kluge added.
And schools should adopt improved ventilation measures, while making the use of masks a “standard” at all primary schools as part of adopting a “safe” learning environment. School closures, like lockdowns, should be avoided at all costs, Kluge said.
While The WHO’s European arm is concerned about rising cases of the omicron variant, Kluge said fighting the delta variant should remain the primary focus of public health officials, since it’s still the dominant variant.
“The problem now is Delta and however we succeed against Delta today is a win over Omicron tomorrow, before it eventually surges,” Kluge said.
The WHO’s European region comprises 53 countries and territories, including several countries in Central Asia.