Europe could see a “long period of tranquility” in the Covid-19 pandemic with a potential “ceasefire” in sight, Dr. Hans Henri Kluge, the World Health Organization regional director for Europe, said on Thursday.
He said at a news briefing that the region could be entering “a plausible endgame for the pandemic – not to say that it is now all over – but to highlight that in the European region, there is a singular opportunity to take control of the transmission.”
The potential “ceasefire” of the pandemic in Europe as Kluge described it, could be possible thanks to high levels of immunity, the lower severity of the Omicron variant and favorable weather as Europe moves out of winter, he said.
“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,” Kluge said.
Kluge noted that the region had recorded 12 million new cases in the past week, the highest weekly case incidence since the pandemic began.
“Hospitalizations continue to rise, mainly in countries with lower vaccination uptake in vulnerable populations. This rise however, is not as rapid as the case incidence rate, and overall, admissions to intensive care have not increased significantly,” he said, adding the number of deaths across the region was “starting to plateau.”
Kluge added the period of “higher protection” could bring “enduring peace,” but on the condition that countries continued vaccinating and boosting, protecting the vulnerable, promoting individual responsibility and intensifying surveillance to detect new variants.
“I believe that it is possible to respond to new variants that will inevitably emerge without re-installing the kind of disruptive measures we needed before,” he added.
The top WHO official also gave a stark warning on vaccine inequity.
“We cannot accept vaccine inequity for one more day; vaccines must be for everyone, in the remotest corner of our vast region and beyond,” he said, calling for “a drastic and uncompromising increase in vaccine-sharing across borders.”
Kluge also acknowledged the “catastrophic impact” of the pandemic on people suffering from cancer ahead of World Cancer Day on Friday.
“Looking back over these past two years, cancer screening, diagnosis and treatment have suffered in an unprecedented way as health services have struggled to respond to Covid-19,” he said.
“The way in which the pandemic delays cancer care and creates service backlogs is a deadly interplay,” Kluge added.
He went on to say “the knock-on effect of this disruption will be felt for years.”