Half of Europe on track to catch Omicron: WHO


More than half of people in Europe are projected to catch Omicron by March, the WHO said on Wednesday, as millions in China locked down again exactly two years after Beijing reported the first Covid-19 death.

The highly-transmissible variant has ripped through countries at breakneck pace, forcing gov-ernments to impose fresh measures and scramble to roll out vaccine booster shots.

Europe is at the epicentre of alarming new out-breaks alongside mounting hospital admissions and deaths while the World Health Organisation said on Tuesday Omicron could infect half of all people in the region at current rates.

“The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) forecasts that more than 50 percent of the population in the region will be infected with Omi-cron in the next six to eight weeks,” said Hans Kluge, regional director for WHO’s European of-fice.

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

Kluge confirmed that Omicron is more trans-missible than previous variants, but stressed “ap-proved vaccines do continue to provide good protec-tion against severe disease and death — including for Omicron”.

The warning came exactly two years after the announcement of the first person dying of a virus only later identified as Covid — a 61-year-old man in Wuhan, China, where the illness was first de-tected. Since January 11, 2020, known fatalities in the pandemic have soared to nearly 5.5 million.

China largely tamed its initial outbreak with a mix of lockdowns, border closures and mass testing, but flare-ups in some major cities are testing that Zero Covid strategy just weeks before the Beijing Winter Olympics.

The city of Anyang in Henan province on Mon-day night told its five million residents not to leave their homes or drive cars on the roads, China’s offi-cial Xinhua news agency said.

Last week, the one million people in Yuzhou — also a city in Henan — were told to stay at home. Xi’an, home to 13 million people, is in its third week of lockdown.

China reported 110 new local virus cases on Tuesday, a tiny figure compared with the hundreds of thousands emerging daily in global hotspots such as the United States.

But they are a cause of alarm for Chinese au-thorities as Beijing prepares to host the Winter Games, with the event already expected to have tight coronavirus safety protocols.—AFP


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