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The Covid pandemic may be entering its “endgame” in Europe, a world health chief has said.
He added that Omicron could infect 60 per cent of Europeans by March, but warned cases may rise again towards the end of the year.
He told AFP news agency: “It’s plausible that the region is moving towards a kind pandemic endgame.
“There will be for some 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.
“We anticipate that there will be a period of quiet before Covid-19 may come back towards the end of the year, but not necessarily the pandemic coming back.”
Studies have shown the Omicron variant is more contagious than Delta, but leads to less severe infection among vaccinated people, which has raised hopes that Covid-19 is beginning to move to a more manageable endemic illness like seasonal flu.
However, Mr Kluge warned that it is still too early to consider Covid-19 endemic and that other 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,” he added.
Another WHO expert warned on Monday that Covid should not be likened to the flu, following remarks from ministers that the UK would have to live with coronavirus as it does with influenza.
Dr David Nabarro, the WHO's special envoy for Covid, said the "end was in sight" but Europe was only "passing the halfway mark in a marathon".
Asked about remarks that Covid-19 should be treated like the flu, he told Sky News: "I keep wondering what the people who make these amazing predictions know that I and my colleagues in the World Health Organisation don't know.
"You see, what people are seeing from around the world and reporting to the WHO is this is still a very, very dangerous virus, especially for people who have not been vaccinated and who've not been exposed to it before.
"It can also mutate and form variants and we've seen several but we know there are more not far away.
"So quite honestly, we are not saying that this should be considered to be like flu or indeed like anything else.
"It's a new virus, and we must go on treating it as though it is full of surprises, very nasty and rather cunning."
The warning comes after the UK government announced all plan B Covid restrictions were to be scrapped on 26 January, including compulsory mask-wearing on public transport and in shops, guidance to work from home and vaccine certificates.
Anthony Fauci, the chief medical advisor to the US president, also expressed similar sentiments about the pandemic’s development in the US.
Speaking to ABC News talk show This Week, he said Covid cases were decreasing “rather sharply” in parts of the US and “things are looking good”.
If the recent decline in cases in areas like the US’s northeast continues, “I believe that you will start to see a turnaround throughout the entire country”.
The WHO regional office for Africa also said last week that Covid cases had dropped significantly on the continent, and deaths were also declining for the first time since the Omicron-dominated fourth wave of the virus reached its peak.
The European Commissioner for Internal markets, Thierry Breton, said that existing vaccines can be adapted to any new variants that could emerge.
“We will be ready to adapt the vaccines, especially the mRNA ones, if necessary to adapt them to more virulent variants,” he told French news LCI.
In the WHO Europe region, which comprises 53 countries including several in Central Asia, Omicron represented 15 per cent of new cases as of 18 January, compared to 6.3 per cent a week earlier, the health body said.
Omicron is now the dominant variant in the EU and the European Economic Area (EEA), the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control said last week.