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11 Jan, 2022 16:55

WHO warns we’re not ready to treat Covid like flu

The global health body has said the ongoing spread of Omicron across Europe poses a “huge amount of uncertainty” about the pandemic
WHO warns we’re not ready to treat Covid like flu

The World Health Organization’s (WHO) senior emergency officer for Europe has urged governments not to treat Covid as endemic, due to the risk of the virus “evolving quite quickly” and presenting “new challenges.”

Issuing the warning on Tuesday, Dr. Catherine Smallwood called for continuing vigilance due the impact of the Omicron strain of Covid-19.

With Europe having seen 7 million new cases of Covid in the first week of 2022 alone, the UN health agency warned that Omicron could infect more than half of Europeans within the coming two months.

Given the spread and continuing uncertainty about the trajectory of the virus, Smallwood cautioned against recent calls to treat the pandemic as endemic.

“We still have a huge amount of uncertainty and a virus that is evolving quite quickly, imposing new challenges. We are certainly not at the point where we are able to call it endemic,” Smallwood stated.

The concerns raised by Smallwood about downgrading Covid follow a statement from Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez about changing the way Covid is tracked. Citing how the virus’ lethality is declining, Sanchez suggested that Covid be tracked in a similar manner to the flu.

“I believe that we have the conditions for, with precaution, slowly, opening the debate at the technical level and at the level of health professionals,” Sanchez said.

Smallwood’s concerns were echoed by Dr. Hans Kluge, the WHO’s regional director for Europe, who said on Tuesday that countries face a “closing window of opportunity” to protect their health systems from being overwhelmed by Covid. His comment was sparked by how “Omicron moves faster and wider than any variant we have seen.”