BRUSSELS, Belgium: Based on the 7 million new cases reported across Europe in the first week of 2022, the World Health Organization has warned that half of Europe will contract the Omicron Covid variant in the next six to eight weeks.
"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," the EU's Dr Hans Kluge told a news conference.
"How each country now responds must be informed by its epidemiological situation, available resources, vaccination uptake status and socio-economic context", he added.
Recent studies suggest that Omicron is less likely to make people seriously ill than previous Covid variants, but it is highly contagious and can infect even those who are fully vaccinated.
The record number of people catching Omicron has left health systems under severe strains.
This week, the UK reported an additional 142,224 confirmed cases of the virus and 77 deaths, while France's Health Minister Olivier Veran warned last week that January would be difficult for his nation's hospitals.
In eastern Europe, Poland reported that 100,000 people had died from the virus since the start of the pandemic.
In Russia, top consumer health official Anna Popova told a meeting of the government's coronavirus task force that without action to control the spread of the virus, the daily number of new Covid cases there could reach 100,000.
Meanwhile, Pfizer said it would soon launch a version of its vaccine to offer special protection against Omicron as early as March. Health experts, however, say it is not yet clear whether this is needed.