NewsDesk  @infectiousdiseasenews

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) reported an additional 529 SARS-CoV-2 Omicron variant of concern (VOC) cases yesterday in the European Union and European Economic Area (EU/EEA), bringing the total to 3,158.

Image by PIRO4D from Pixabay

Cases have been reported from 27 EU/EEA countries to date. Although cases reported initially were linked to travel, an increasing number of cases are now reported to have been acquired within the EU/EEA

All cases in the EU/EEA for which there is available information on severity were either asymptomatic or mild. Within the EU/EEA there have been no Omicron-related deaths reported thus far.

58 countries have reported confirmed Omicron cases totaling 12,620. On 13 December 2021, the UK Health Security Agency reported one Omicron-related death. This individual was diagnosed in hospital.

ECDC Director, Dr. Andrea Ammon said the following:

“Since I last addressed you, the emergence of the Omicron variant has raised serious concerns due to preliminary reports of clusters of cases, including among people who had been fully vaccinated. There are indications that community transmission is already ongoing in EU/EEA countries and based on modelling predictions a further rapid increase in Omicron cases is imminent.

We assess the probability of further spread of the Omicron variant in the EU/EEA as very high, and it is considered very likely to cause additional hospitalisations and fatalities, further to those already expected from previous forecasts that consider only the Delta variant.

The effectiveness of vaccines against severe outcomes caused by Delta remains high, therefore vaccination remains a key component in reducing the impact of Omicron and addressing the circulation of Delta. According to surveillance data, nearly half a million lives have been saved by vaccines so far. Countries should ramp up efforts to increase full vaccination in people not yet vaccinated or only partially vaccinated, as well as to administer booster doses to all eligible as soon as possible.

In the current situation, vaccination alone will not allow us to prevent the impact of the Omicron variant, because there will be no time to address the vaccination gaps that still exist. It is urgent that strong action is taken to reduce transmission and alleviate the heavy burden on health care systems and protect the most vulnerable in the coming months. Countries have several options for response ahead of the festive season in the current situation.

As we have said before, a rapid reintroduction and strengthening of non-pharmaceutical interventions is necessary to reduce the ongoing Delta transmission, slow down the spread of the Omicron variant of concern and keep the COVID-19-related burden manageable.

It remains a priority to use face masks appropriately, telework, prevent crowding in public spaces, reduce crowding on public transport, stay home when ill, maintain hand and respiratory hygiene measures and ensure adequate ventilation in closed spaces. Countries may expect a strong resurgence of cases if they lift these interventions.

For probable or confirmed cases of Omicron infection, contact tracing should be prioritised, regardless of vaccination status. Testing remains an important tool, and people with symptoms should be tested regardless of their vaccination status, together with isolation of positive persons, to limit the spread of the virus and to reduce the burden on healthcare systems. Genomic surveillance remains of high importance and genome sequencing should be performed to confirm infection with a specific variant.

These measures will not only help keep us healthy but will also protect those around us. By acting together, we can overcome the difficult situation that the pandemic has caused. As the festive season comes closer, we need solidarity more than ever before.”