Europe could see half of its population infected with the omicron variant over the coming weeks, the World Health Organization said Tuesday.
“At this rate, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation forecasts that more than 50% of the population in the region will be infected with omicron in the next six to eight weeks,” said Hans Kluge, WHO’s regional director for Europe during a virtual press conference.
The combination of omicron and delta variants has caused more than 7 million new infections in the first week of 2022, he said.
“Today the omicron variant represents a new west-to-east tidal wave, sweeping across the region on top of the delta surge that all countries were managing until late 2021,” he said.
The WHO says omicron spreads more rapidly than delta, but there is not a scientific consensus about how much serious illness and death it causes relative to other variants. It does appear to infect fully vaccinated people.
The rising number of cases has begun to put stress on countries’ health systems.
“The rapid increase in cases will lead to an increase in hospitalizations, may pose overwhelming demands on health care systems and lead to significant morbidity, particularly in vulnerable populations,” the organization said.