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Pic Omicron? Experts hesitate to end wave of variants in Europe

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An increase in coronavirus cases caused by the Omicron variant may have peaked in parts of Europe, but doctors say the impact will continue to be felt across the region, with hospitals still risking doing so. facing a rush of admissions.

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Health experts and politicians warn of complacency, saying it is not yet clear whether their data reflects the full impact of the Christmas and New Years holidays, when families have been together for long periods. periods indoors and the risk of intergenerational spread of the virus may be greater.

Additionally, although the vaccination and lower severity of the Omicron variant means hospitalizations are lower than in previous waves of COVID-19 infections, Europe still accounts for around half of the world’s cases and deaths. .

But there are growing signs that the upsurge in infections caused by the Omicron variant, first identified in southern Africa and Hong Kong, is stabilizing or even declining in some areas.

Britain’s seven-day average of cases fell by 30,000 from its peak, Spain’s Prime Minister said the number of infections was stabilizing and a French public health institute said the wave would peak in mid- January.

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“We are seeing a number of places where the peak has been reached or has been reached. It may be a little earlier than expected, but remember that the region is very diverse, ”Hans Kluge, European director of the World Health Organization, said this week.

“So we have to keep in mind the eastern part of the region, the Central Asian republics, where this peak may still occur.”

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Health officials in Sweden and Switzerland said the peak in those two countries is expected to be reached towards the end of this month.

“We could reach the top in the next two weeks if the contacts between people remain at the same level. If people are more careful, it will take longer, ”Tanja Stadler, head of the Swiss COVID-19 scientific working group, told reporters on Tuesday.

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The trend echoes the Omicron wave in Africa, which the WHO Africa office said appeared to be leveling off, making it the smallest increase in cases to date.

Denmark, where cases are dominated by Omicron, relaxed some restrictions this week, with the health minister saying the outbreak in the country was now under control.

The UK Office of National Statistics said the growth of infections had slowed in England. It is estimated that one in 15 people was infected during the week ending January 6, like the week before.

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THE CAUTION PREVENTS

Despite the positive signs, policies remain cautious.

UK Health Secretary Sajid Javid said on Thursday that if the hospitalization rate started to slow, health services would remain under pressure for the next few weeks.

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“Omicron’s much greater transmissibility still has the potential to lead to a significant number of people hospitalized,” he said.

He said there were encouraging signs that infections were decreasing in London and the east of England, but “we are still currently seeing infections on the rise in other parts of the country and the data does not yet reflect the impact of people returning to work and school ”after Christmas and New Years.

Scotland, which has introduced tougher restrictions to tackle Omicron than England, will start lifting those measures on Monday.

But, showing that the stabilization of the number of cases is not seen everywhere, the Italian National Institute of Health said on Friday that the weekly incidence and occupancy of hospital beds continued to increase this week.

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German virologist Christian Drosten warned on Friday that there were far too many cases of Omicron and it reduced any gain from being milder than other variants, and the German health minister said more restrictions on coronaviruses might be needed if hospitals are overwhelmed.

With Omicron initially spreading rapidly among young people, epidemiologists said its impact on hospital admissions could be unpredictable as it shifts to older age groups, even as the number of cases to the a drop.

But the ZOE COVID Symptom Study app, which collects data on self-reported symptoms to estimate prevalence in Britain, found the Omicron wave had peaked and cases among the elderly stabilized at a low level.

“Just as it has increased very quickly, it has also decreased very quickly and I think that is good news, it means that there will be an easing of pressure on hospitals,” Tim Spector, scientist told Reuters. main application.

Even so, the Omicron variant won’t go away, he said.

“It’s so contagious, there’s no way to pretend it’s going to go down to insignificant levels, but it should be manageable levels,” he said.

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