Europe is at risk of being buried beneath a continentwide "tidal wave" of omicron infections, according to the World Health Organization.
This wave could hinder several of Europe's health systems, as an estimated 7 million new cases of COVID-19 were reported in the first week of 2022. At the current growth rate, 1% of the population will catch COVID-19 each week in 26 countries, WHO Europe Director Hans Kluge estimated.
"At this rate, more than 50% of the population in the region will be infected with omicron in the next six to eight weeks," said Kluge.
The omicron variant has been reported in 50 of Europe's 53 states and has become the dominant variant in Western Europe, Kluge said. "We have yet to see its full impact in countries where levels of vaccination uptake are lower and where we will see more severe disease in the unvaccinated," he added.
The European Medicines Agency (EMA) said that the spread of Omicron was pushing Covid towards being an endemic disease that humanity could live with, even if it remained a pandemic for now.
The World Bank, meanwhile, predicted global economic growth will decelerate in 2022 as Omicron risks exacerbating labour shortages and supply chain snarls.
On Monday, the pharmaceutical firm Pfizer said it would be able to launch a version of its vaccine that offers special protection against Omicron, to be rolled out in March. Health experts say it is not yet clear whether this is needed.