The Omicron variant has moved the Covid-19 pandemic into a new phase and could bring it to an end in Europe, WHO Europe director Hans Kluge said.
"It's plausible that the region is moving towards a kind of pandemic endgame," Kluge told AFP in an interview, adding that Omicron could infect 60% of Europeans by March.
Once the current surge of Omicron sweeping across Europe subsides, "there will be for quite some weeks and months a global immunity, either thanks to the vaccine or because people have immunity due to the infection, and also lowering seasonality".
"We anticipate that there will be a period of quiet before Covid-19 may come back towards the end of the year, but not necessarily the pandemic coming back," Kluge said.
The Omicron variant, which studies have shown is more contagious than Delta but generally leads to less severe infection among vaccinated people, has raised long-awaited hopes that Covid-19 is starting to shift from a pandemic to a more manageable endemic illness like seasonal flu. But Kluge cautioned that it was still too early to consider Covid-19 endemic.
"There is a lot of talk about endemic but endemic means ... that it is possible to predict what's going to happen. This virus has surprised (us) more than once so we have to be very careful," Kluge said.
With Omicron spreading so widely, other variants could still emerge, he warned.