COPENHAGEN, Jan 11, Reuters - The Omicron variant of COVID-19 is on track to infect more than half of Europeans, but it should not be seen as a flu-like endemic illness, the World Health Organization WHO said on Tuesday.
In the first week of 2022, Europe saw more than 7 million newly reported cases, more than doubled over a two-week period, according to Hans Kluge, WHO's Europe director.
The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation forecasts that more than 50% of the population will be infected with Omicron in the next 6 -- 8 weeks, according to Kluge, referring to a research centre at the University of Washington.
Fifty out of 53 countries in Europe and central Asia have logged more infectious variants, according to Kluge.
Evidence is emerging that Omicron is affecting the upper respiratory tract more than the lungs, causing milder symptoms than previous variants.
More studies are still needed to prove this, according to the WHO. Pedro Sanchez, Spain's prime minister, said on Monday that it may be time to change how it tracks COVID - 19 evolution to use a method similar to flu, because its lethality has fallen. That would mean treating the disease as an endemic illness, not a disease, without recording every case, and without testing all people presenting symptoms.
Catherine Smallwood, WHO's senior emergency officer for Europe, said at the briefing that endemicity requires a stable and predictable transmission.
We still have a lot of uncertainty and a virus that is evolving quickly, which is imposing new challenges. Smallwood said that we are certainly not at the point where we are able to call it endemic.
It may become endemic in due course, but it is a little bit difficult to pin down to 2022 at this stage.