Coronavirus: Half of Europe on track to catch Omicron, says World Health Organization

  • Europe has reported the most cases and the highest number of deaths, with almost 8 million recorded infections over the last week
  • Meanwhile, the World Bank warned that the more contagious variant of Covid-19 could impact global recovery
Agence France-Presse |

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The World Health Organization has warned that half of the population of Europe could catch the Omicron variant in the near future. Photo: AP

More than half of people in Europe are projected to catch Omicron by March, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Tuesday, as the World Bank warned the more contagious variant could hamper global economic recovery.

The highly transmissible Omicron variant has swept across countries, forcing governments to impose fresh prevention measures and scramble to roll out vaccine booster shots.

Europe is at the epicentre of alarming new outbreaks and the WHO said that Omicron could infect half of all people in the region if it continues at the current rate.

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Europe is currently reporting the largest number of deaths and cases worldwide, according to an AFP tally, with almost eight million recorded infections over the past seven days.

The WHO’s regional director for Europe, Hans Kluge, described a “new west-to-east tidal wave sweeping across” the region.

People queue outside a pharmacy for coronavirus antigen testing in the Graca district of Lisbon, Portugal, on Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2022. While Portugal has been reporting record figures of daily new coronavirus cases driven by the Omicron variant, the number of patients in intensive care has fallen. Photo: Bloomberg

“The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) forecasts that more than 50 per cent of the population in the region will be infected with Omicron in the next six to eight weeks,” he said.

The WHO’s European region covers 53 countries and territories, including several in Central Asia, and Kluge said 50 of them had reported Omicron cases.

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Kluge confirmed that Omicron is more transmissible than previous variants, but stressed “approved vaccines do continue to provide good protection against severe disease and death, including for Omicron”.

The World Bank provided more sobering forecasts on Tuesday, predicting global economic growth will decelerate in 2022, as Omicron risks worsening labour shortages and affecting supply chains.

In its latest Global Economic Prospects report, the Washington-based development lender forecast world economic growth this year at 4.1 per cent, following a 5.5 per cent rebound last year.

World Bank President David Malpass said the pandemic could leave a “permanent scar on development” as poverty, nutrition and health indicators move in the wrong direction.

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