West News Wire: According to the World Health Organization, more than 7 million new cases of the omicron strain of COVID-19 were reported in Europe in the first week of January, more than tripling in only two weeks.

At a press conference on Tuesday, WHO Europe director Dr. Hans Kluge said that 26 countries in the region have reported that more than 1% of their populations are infected with COVID-19 each week, warning that countries have a “closing window of opportunity” to prevent their health systems from being overwhelmed.

According to predictions from the University of Washington’s Institute of Health Metrics, half of the population in Western Europe will be infected with COVID-19 in the next six to eight weeks.

“Omicron moves faster and wider than any (previous) variant we have seen,” he said. Kluge called for countries to mandate the use of masks indoors and to prioritize vaccination, including booster doses, of at-risk populations, including health workers and older people. WHO’s Geneva headquarters has previously pleaded with rich countries not to offer booster doses and to donate them instead to poorer countries where vulnerable groups have yet to be immunized.

Kluge said he was greatly concerned that as omicron moves east across the European continent, the variant will take a much higher toll on countries with lower vaccination coverage rates. In Denmark, he noted the coronavirus hospitalization rate was six times higher in people who weren’t vaccinated compared to those who had been immunized.

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