WHO Regional Director of Europe, Hans Kluge, told Agence France-Presse that the highly infectious Omicron variant of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, which causes COVID-19, could infect 60 percent of Europeans by March before tapering off for some time thanks to global immunity and increased vaccinations, among other things.
Omicron cases are sweeping throughout several European countries, and the EU health agency, the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) says that the overall level of risk to public health is “very high.”
ECDC said earlier this month that it expects more cases to emerge in the coming weeks, driven by the Omicron variant, and warned of increased worker shortages among health care and other essential workers, and potential difficulties with testing and contact tracing capacities in many EU member states.
However, once the number of cases across Europe subsides, “there will be for quite some weeks and months a global immunity, either thanks to the vaccine or because people have immunity due to the infection, and also lowering seasonality,” Kluge said.
“So we anticipate that there will be a quiet period before COVID-19 may come back towards the end of the year, but not necessarily the pandemic coming back,” he said.
Kluge’s comments come after White House chief medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci on Sunday said that he’s “as confident as you can be” that most of the United States will reach a peak in Omicron infections in the middle of February.
“If you look at the patterns that we’ve seen in South Africa, in the UK, and in Israel and in the northeast and New England and upper Midwest states, they have peaked and [are] starting to come down rather sharply,” Fauci told ABC’s “This Week.”
While there are still some Southern and Western states that continue to see case numbers rise, if the pattern follows the downward trend seen in other places, such as the Northeast, the United States will start to see a similar “turnaround throughout the entire country,” Fauci said.
However, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases cautioned against being “overconfident” when it comes to the virus and its potential effects across the nation.
He also noted that those areas of the country that haven’t been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or received booster shots may still see “a bit more pain and suffering with hospitalizations.”
Kluge on Monday also cautioned that it was too early to forecast the virus becoming less severe and endemic, noting that new variants could still emerge.
“There is a lot of talk about endemic but endemic means … that it is possible to predict what’s going to happen. This virus has surprised [us] more than once so we have to be very careful,” Kluge said.
The WHO’s comments come as a growing number of European countries have rolled back their COVID-19 restrictions citing declining hospitalizations and data suggesting Omicron cases have peaked.
Beginning Jan. 27, people in the United Kingdom no longer have to wear masks in public or show proof that they’ve been vaccinated to enter some venues, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced.
Fully vaccinated people arriving into the UK will also no longer face testing requirements as of Feb. 11.
French Prime Minister Jean Castex said on Thursday the country will start to roll back restrictions within weeks, pointing to an improvement in the country’s COVID-19 case numbers and hospitalizations.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez also told reporters on Jan. 10 that he wants the European Union to consider approaching COVID-19 in the same way it approaches flu.
“The situation is not what we faced a year ago,” Sánchez said in a radio interview with Spain’s Cadena SER.
“I think we have to evaluate the evolution of COVID to an endemic illness, from the pandemic we have faced up until now.”
However, Austria is moving closer to implementing a COVID-19 vaccination mandate for most adults after Parliament’s lower house on Thursday voted in favor of the proposal.