Covid infections have doubled in some eastern European countries over the past two weeks, with the World Health Organisation giving a warning that the “Omicron tidal wave” was moving east.
WHO Europe chief Hans Kluge emphasised that vaccination rates have to be improved, amid a comparatively low uptake in Eastern Europe compared to the rest of the continent.
The WHO Europe region comprises 53 countries, including ex-Soviet states that are not members of the EU.
“Today, our focus is towards the east of the WHO European region,” Dr Kluge said. He said that cases had more than doubled in the past two weeks in six countries: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, the Russian Federation, and Ukraine,
“As anticipated, the omicron wave is moving east. Ten eastern member states have now detected this variant,” Dr Kluge said.
While Omicron is highly infectious, it is considered milder than previous variants.
He urged governments and health officials “to closely examine the local reasons influencing lower vaccine demand and acceptance, and devise tailored interventions to increase vaccination rates urgently, based on the context-specific evidence”.
He said that, for example, less than 40 per cent of people over age 60 in Bosnia, Bulgaria, Kyrgyzstan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan are fully vaccinated against Covid-19.
Dr Kluge insisted that now, amid a “Omicron tidal wave,” was “not the moment to lift measures that we know work in reducing the spread of Covid-19”.