The director of the World Health Organization's (WHO) Europe office on Thursday said the region is entering a "plausible endgame" to the Covid-19 pandemic, providing European countries with "a singular opportunity to take control of transmission."
European countries have a 'singular opportunity' to control Covid-19 transmission
According to Hans Kluge, WHO's Europe director, European countries will have the opportunity to take control of Covid-19 transmission because of three key factors, including high immunization levels from vaccines and natural infection, a decrease in the spread of the coronavirus in warmer weather, and the lower severity of the omicron variant.
"This period of higher protection should be seen as a cease-fire that could bring us enduring peace," Kluge said.
Across the 53-country region, Kluge said 12 million new coronavirus cases were recorded last week, marking the highest single weekly total since the pandemic began, with roughly 22% of all tests producing a positive result. However, he noted that even though hospital admissions are rising, they are not rising at the same rate as Covid-19 cases. In addition, Kluge said the number of patients in intensive care has not increased significantly, and the number of deaths across the region was also starting to plateau.
"[A] large capital of vaccine-derived and natural immunity, a favourable seasonality pause, and a lower severity of the omicron variant" means that European countries have "a singular opportunity to take control of transmission," Kluge added.
According to Kluge, health authorities should now be capable of handling any new variants that arise. He also noted that the warmer weather during the spring months "leaves us with the possibility for a long period of tranquility and a much higher level of population defense against any resurgence in transmission."
When considered altogether, these factors suggest it is "plausible" the region is "moving towards a kind of pandemic endgame," Kluge added.
European countries must use the 'period of tranquility' to fight Covid-19
However, Kluge stressed that authorities must take advantage of this "period of tranquility" by encouraging vaccine and booster shots, protecting vulnerable populations, promoting individual responsibility, and bolstering surveillance efforts to detect new variants.
"I believe it is possible to respond to new variants that will inevitably emerge without reinstalling the kind of disruptive measures we needed before," he said. However, he noted that officials must prioritize equally protecting all the region's countries against the coronavirus.
For instance, to take control of Covid-19 transmission, Kluge urged everyone in the region to get fully vaccinated against the coronavirus and called for "a drastic and uncompromising increase in vaccine-sharing across borders." He added, "We cannot accept vaccine inequity for one more day—vaccines must be for everyone, in the remotest corner of our vast region and beyond."
In recent weeks, countries throughout Europe, including Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and Britain, have slowly begun easing their Covid-19 restrictions.
Separately, on Thursday, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned that the world still has a long way to go before the pandemic is over. He emphasized that even countries with high vaccination rates should resist political pressure and refrain from removing all their Covid-19 restrictions at once.
"We are concerned that a narrative has taken hold in some countries that because of vaccines—and because of omicron's high transmissibility and lower severity—preventing transmission is no longer possible and no longer necessary," Tedros said. "Nothing could be further from the truth." (AP/Modern Healthcare, 2/3; Scully, The Hill, 2/3; Henley, The Guardian, 2/3)