A pharmacy employee collects a sample from a member of the public in a tent set up to offer Covid-19 antigen tests outside a pharmacy in Paris on January 6, 2022, as Covid-19 (novel coronavirus) cases soar in Europe. AFP
Speaking at a press conference, regional director Hans Kluge warned that the Omicron variant represented a "new west-to-east tidal wave sweeping across" the European region.
"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 told reporters.
The WHO's European region comprises 53 countries and territories including several in Central Asia, and Kluge noted that 50 of them had confirmed cases of the Omicron variant.
According to the WHO, 26 of those countries reported that over one percent of their populations were "catching Covid-19 each week," as of January 10, and that the region had seen over seven million new virus cases reported in the first week of 2022 alone.
Referencing data collected over the last few weeks, Kluge said the variant was confirmed to be more transmissible and "the mutations it has enable it to adhere to human cells more easily, and it can infect even those who have been previously infected or vaccinated."
However, Kluge also stressed that "approved vaccines do continue to provide good protection against severe disease and death, including for Omicron."