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'tidal wave'

Over half of Europe could get COVID-19 in next 6 to 8 weeks, WHO warns

The World Health Organization's regional director for Europe is warning that more than half of the population there could be infected with COVID-19 in the coming weeks. 

Hans Kluge, WHO regional director for Europe, made the warning at a briefing Tuesday discussing the "new west to east tidal wave sweeping across the region" amid the spread of the Omicron variant of COVID-19, The New York Times and CNN report

"Fifty of the 53 countries in Europe and central Asia have now reported cases of Omicron," Kluge said. "It is quickly becoming the dominant variant in western Europe and is now spreading into the Balkans. At this rate, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) forecasts that more than 50 percent of the population in the region will be infected with Omicron in the next six to eight weeks." 

Kluge said Europe is "under intense pressure" as the Omicron variant surges and that there were more than seven million new cases in the region during the first week of the year, "more than doubling over a two-week period," and as of Monday, "26 countries report that over one percent of their population is catching COVID-19 each week." He also expressed concern that the "full impact" of Omicron hasn't yet been seen in countries with lower vaccination uptake rates, and he urged those countries that haven't yet experienced the surge to act now.

"For countries not yet hit by the Omicron surge," he said, "there is a closing window of opportunity to act now and plan for contingencies." 

At the briefing, WHO senior emergency officer for Europe Catherine Smallwood also warned that COVID-19 shouldn't be treated like an "endemic" illness, Axios reports, noting, "We still have a huge amount of uncertainty and a virus that is evolving quite quickly, imposing new challenges."