Within six to eight weeks, half of Europe will have been infected with the Omicron variant of Covid-19, according to the World Health Organization.
On top of the surge of the Delta variant already present, Dr Hans Kluge said a “west-to-east tidal wave” of Omicron was sweeping across the region.
The forecast was based on the seven million new cases reported in the first week of 2022 across Europe.
In just two weeks, the number of infections has more than doubled.
“Today, the Omicron variant represents a new west-to-east tidal wave, sweeping across the region on top of the Delta surge, which all countries were able to manage until late 2021,” Dr Kluge said at a press conference.
“More than half of the population in the region will be infected with Omicron in the next six to eight weeks,” he said, citing the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation in Seattle.
As the virus spread from western countries into the Balkans, he said European and Central Asian countries were still under “intense pressure.”
“The epidemiological situation, available resources, vaccination uptake status, and socio-economic context must all inform how each country responds now,” he added.
According to recent research, Omicron is less likely than previous Covid variants to cause serious illness. However, even if people are fully vaccinated, Omicron is highly contagious and can infect them.
The unprecedented number of people infected has put a strain on health-care systems.
The UK reported a total of 142,224 confirmed cases of the virus and 77 deaths on Monday. Due to staff absences and rising pressures caused by Covid, a number of hospitals have declared “critical” incidents.
Hospital admissions are also on the rise in other parts of the country. Last week, France’s Health Minister, Olivier Veran, warned that January would be a difficult month for hospitals.
He went on to say that Omicron patients were occupying “traditional” hospital beds, while Delta was putting a strain on ICU departments.
In eastern Europe, Poland reported that 100,000 people had died as a result of the virus since the pandemic began. Poland now has the world’s sixth-highest Covid-19 mortality rate, and nearly 40% of its population is still unvaccinated.
In Russia, top consumer health official Anna Popova warned a meeting of the government’s coronavirus task force that if nothing is done to stop the virus from spreading, the number of new Covid cases could reach 100,000 per day.
According to the Reuters news agency, the daily infection rate has been steadily declining since peaking at 41,335 cases in early November.
So far, 305 cases of the Omicron variant have been discovered in 13 of the country’s regions, according to Ms. Popova. To date, Russia has recorded 311,281 deaths and 10.5 million cases.
Pfizer, the pharmaceutical company, announced on Monday that it will be able to launch a version of its vaccine that provides extra protection against Omicron in March. According to health experts, it is still unclear whether this is necessary.
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