The World Health Organisation (WHO) has urged Europeans to keep a vigilant eye on the spread of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) as they round out the year with friends and family.
In a message on Thursday, December 16, 2021, WHO Regional Director, Hans Kluge, further urged Europeans to “be smart, be kind and be safe this holiday season.”
The COVID-19 threat remains high across the continent, which was already the epicentre of the pandemic even before the emergence of the new Omicron variant.
“My message to the people of Europe and central Asia is to exercise caution this holiday season. Use the many tools we have at our disposal.
“These stabilisers help us to manage the virus and keep people safe,” Kluge said.
He urged people to get fully vaccinated as soon as possible.
“Vaccines remain the best way to prevent severe disease and death, even with the arrival of the Omicron variant,” Kluge said, adding: “If you are eligible for a third dose and it is available to you, take it.”
He urged families and friends meeting up to keep the gatherings small, and recommended that people should take a lateral flow/antigen or PCR test beforehand to ensure they are not infectious.
“Follow other preventive measures, even if you are fully vaccinated.
“Avoid crowded or confined places, wear a well-fitting mask, observe physical distancing of at least one metre, ventilate indoor spaces by opening windows and/or doors, and keep your hands clean,” he advised.
Meanwhile, WHO Europe has urged governments and health authorities, adopt “balanced and risk-based approach” to COVID-19 prevention measures this winter season.
As people socialise more indoors, or travel to visit loved ones, the opportunities for further virus transmission are significant.
WHO Europe said with the right mix of measures, countries could find a balance between keeping coronavirus transmission down and societies and economies open.
It advised that government response should be centred around preventing severe COVID-19 disease and stabilising transmission.
It added that measures should include continuing vaccination, targeting those most at risk, and prioritising eligible groups for booster shots.
WHO Europe also advised governments to strengthen public health actions such as testing, contact-tracing, and regulations for mass gatherings.
Regarding international travel, WHO Europe said while countries may apply appropriate measures to reduce virus transmission, particularly in response to new variants, blanket travel bans will not prevent their international spread.
Additionally, decisions on mass gatherings should “rely on a risk-based approach”, and WHO has produced a policy brief and risk assessment tool to support authorities in this regard.
WHO Europe recently launched an online mechanism to help governments decide on the type and level of measures to implement in their territories.
By Cecilia Ologunagba