The World Health Organization (WHO) issued a warning on Tuesday that the Omicron variant will infect half of Europe over the course of the next two months.
Twenty-six countries of the WHO’s 53-nation European region reported that over 1% of their populations were “catching Covid-19 each week” as of Monday. According to France 24, Europe also saw over seven million new cases of the virus in the first week of 2022 alone.
The rampant spread of the Omicron variant has many experts asking if everyone will get Covid-19. Though it’s still too early to tell, the possibility is certainly on everyone’s radar.
Hans Kluge, the WHO’s Europe director, called the rate of transmission “unprecedented” on Tuesday, but attempted to assuage fears by noting that mortality rates were stable.
The most recent wave after the holidays “is challenging health systems and service delivery in many countries where Omicron has spread at speed, and threatens to overwhelm in many more,” he stated.
Despite the increase in hospital numbers, the turn-over rate is much faster for those who are fully vaccinated. Fatalities to Covid-19’s Omicron variant have also significantly declined.
Hospitalization is up 50% according to The New York Times, but deaths have not yet increased. Many of the patients entering hospitals with Covid-19 complications are also unvaccinated, where the effects and symptoms are much more dangerous.
The highly transmissible virus can “adhere to human cells more easily” and “infect even those who have been previously infected or vaccinated,” Kluge said. Still, “approved vaccines do continue to provide good protection against severe disease and death, including for Omicron.”
In the United States, the latest average for new cases reported was over 777,844 per week. 74% of the population has received at least one dose of the vaccine, with 63% reported as fully vaccinated.
Despite health officials calling the Omicron variant more treatable experts are hesitant to call the virus’ mutation “endemic,” such as how the flu is globally classified.
“We still have a virus that’s evolving quite quickly and posing quite new challenges. So we’re certainly not at the point of being able to call it endemic,” WHO senior emergencies officer Catherine Smallwood explained.
“This virus, as we know, has surprised us more than once” Kluge added. “The prime aspirational goal for 2022 is to stabilize the pandemic.”
“The priority should be to avoid and reduce harm among the vulnerable, and minimize disruption to health systems and essential services,” WHO director Kluge stated. “This means prioritizing vulnerable people for primary course and booster doses, advising them to avoid closed, crowded spaces, and offering the possibility to work remotely wherever possible until the infection surge passes.”
Many people are still wondering what can be done to stop the spread, however, fearing that everyone will get Omicron by the end of 2022.
In Israel, health experts are preparing to roll out a fourth dose of the vaccine to seniors over the age of 60 and healthcare workers. Meanwhile, companies such as Pfizer and Moderna have been working on specific Omicron vaccines and pills that reduce the symptoms of the virus.
The WHO called for rapid tests to be more widely available, and that PCR testing should be prioritized for those with severe danger to the virus. Across the globe, people have reported waiting in lines for hours outside testing centers to receive testing, while many stores sell out of at-home testing kits within seconds.
“It might be beneficial for even fully vaccinated people to mentally prepare to test positive at some point in the future,” said Dr. Bernard Camins, medical director for infection prevention at Mount Sinai Health.
“I’ve been telling this to anyone who would listen,” he told TODAY. “It’s not a matter of if you get exposed to the omicron variant or any other variant of the coronavirus, it’s a matter of when.”
Those who are fully vaccinated and test positive should not panic, according to health officials, but instead monitor their symptoms as they isolate at home.