Europe warns omicron will overrun hospitals if action is not taken immediately
ECDC sets risk to public health at "very high" due to the rapid spread of this variant
BrusselsOmicron is spreading rapidly across Europe and will strain the continent's healthcare systems if social containment measures are not taken immediately. This is the stark warning issued on Wednesday by the European Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (ECDC), which has set the level of risk to public health associated with this new variant at "very high". The main reason is its rapid spread, which will mean it will become the main variant on the continent in the next two months, according to ECDC forecasts.
"There are already indicators of community transmission in Europe and predictive models show that a rapid increase in cases of infection by omicron is imminent," says the director of the ECDC, Andrea Ammon, in a statement. The ECDC's conclusion is clear: Omicron is progressing too fast to stop it with vaccines alone given the current vaccination gap. "Vaccination is not enough to prevent the impact of Omicron, because there is no time to close the vaccination gap that still exists," says Ammon. He therefore calls for "urgent" action to reduce transmission and lighten health systems' burden. The ECDC predicts that hospitals will be overrun and calls for an "immediate" increase in hospital capacity to be planned.
Currently 2,127 cases of this variant have been detected in Europe, and countries such as Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Hungary, Spain, Sweden and Iceland have identified cases that have no apparent link to travel to areas considered at risk. Therefore, it can now be considered that there is community transmission throughout Europe. And while it is true that almost all confirmed cases are mild or asymptomatic, the speed at which it is spreading is the main problem. Even if the omicron variant causes a milder disease than the delta variant, this will quickly be offset by its increased transmissibility and consequent exponential growth of cases, according to the ECDC. "It is therefore considered that the omicron variant may result in additional hospitalisations and fatalities on top of those already expected from delta," the ECDC warns.
In fact, the ECDC already called for a return to restrictions on socialising at the end of November in order to save the Christmas holidays, taking into account that contagions were already beginning to increase across Europe. This time, however, the ECDC is conveying an even greater sense of urgency after observing that cases of the omicron variant are spreading much more rapidly than those of the delta variant, the dominant variant at the moment. "The use of masks, working from home, avoiding crowds and staying at home are still priorities; countries that eliminate these measures can expect a sharp increase in cases," says the director of the ECDC.
The leaders of the European Union will meet this Thursday at the last European summit of the year and coronavirus will remain at the top of the agenda. They will discuss the need to increase vaccination especially in those European countries that are far from the EU average. According to ECDC data, currently 67.3% of European citizens have received the full guideline, but countries like Bulgaria and Romania have much lower ratios.