People walk in Trocadero Square near the Eiffel Tower in Paris [File: Gonzalo Fuentes/Reuters]
SOURCE: AL JAZEERA

(AL JAZEERA) — The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned against treating COVID-19 as an endemic illness like flu, rather than as a pandemic, saying the spread of the Omicron variant has not yet stabilised.

Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said on Monday it may be time to change how it tracks COVID-19’s evolution to instead use a method similar to how it follows the flu, because its lethality has fallen. That would imply treating the virus as an “endemic illness”, rather than a pandemic.

“We still have a huge amount of uncertainty and a virus that is evolving quite quickly, imposing new challenges. We are certainly not at the point where we are able to call it endemic,” WHO’s senior emergency officer for Europe, Catherine Smallwood, told a press briefing.

Meanwhile, Hans Kluge, the WHO’s top Europe official, has predicted that more than half of the continent’s population will get infected with the Omicron coronavirus variant within the next six to eight weeks.

Europe saw more than seven million newly reported COVID-19 cases in the first week of 2022, more than doubling over a two-week period, Kluge, the WHO’s Europe director, told a news briefing.

“At this rate, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation forecasts that more than 50 percent of the population in the region will be infected with Omicron in the next 6-8 weeks,” Kluge said.