WHO official sees 'plausible endgame' for COVID-19 pandemic in Europe

WHO official sees 'plausible endgame' for COVID-19 pandemic in Europe

Europe is entering a “plausible endgame” to the COVID-19 pandemic as the number of deaths across the region begins to “plateau,” the director of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Europe office said Thursday. 

Speaking at a media briefing, Dr. Hans Kluge said that countries have a “singular opportunity to take control of” transmission due to high levels of immunization from vaccination and natural immunity, the tendency for coronavirus to spread less in warmer weather and the lower severity of the omicron variant that is “now well established.” 

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“This context, that we have not experienced so far in this pandemic, leaves us with the possibility for a long period of tranquility and a much higher level of population defense against any re-surge in transmission, even with a more virulent variant,” he said

Kluge said the period of “higher protection” should be seen as a “cease-fire” that could bring the region “enduring peace” on the condition that it continues to vaccinate and boost, there is strong governmental oversight and commitment with a focus on the “five stabilizers for the most vulnerable” and that the region promotes self-protecting behavior and individual responsibility. 

WHO European Director Hans Kluge gives status on the Danish handling of coronavirus during a press briefing in Eigtveds Pakhus, Copenhagen, Denmark, March 27, 2020.

WHO European Director Hans Kluge gives status on the Danish handling of coronavirus during a press briefing in Eigtveds Pakhus, Copenhagen, Denmark, March 27, 2020. (Ida Guldbaek Arentsen/ Ritzau Scanpix/via REUTERS)

He also told reporters that he believes it is possible to respond to any new variants of concern that will “inevitably emerge” “without re-installing the kind of disruptive measures we needed before.”

Kluge said that it is because the organization sees the top priority as bringing all countries to a level of protection that allows them to “grasp this opportunity and look ahead towards more stable days” – a future that demands a “drastic and uncompromising increase in vaccine-sharing across borders.” 

“We cannot accept vaccine inequity for one more day,” he urged, echoing previous calls from WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus

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Scientists have previously warned that unless the majority of the world’s population is vaccinated, any opportunities for COVID-19 to keep spreading means it could mutate into deadlier and more transmissible forms.

Kluge pointed out that the hospitalizations in the European region were on the rise – mainly in the unvaccinated – and that it had recorded 12 million new cases in the past week: the highest weekly case incidence since the start of the pandemic. 

“This rise, however, is not as rapid as the case incidence rate – and overall, admissions to intensive care have not increased significantly,” he said. 

Numerous countries in Europe, like Britain and Denmark, have loosened or dropped COVID-19 restrictions after saying that a surge of omicron has peaked. 

Some, like Spain, are considering whether to label omicron an endemic problem. 

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“We are concerned that a narrative has taken hold in some countries that because of vaccines – and because of omicron’s high transmissibility and lower severity — preventing transmission is no longer possible and no longer necessary,” Tedros said at WHO’s Geneva headquarters on Tuesday. “Nothing could be further from the truth.”

The agency has cautioned that even countries with high levels of vaccination should not cave to political pressure and release all of their coronavirus measures at once.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.