The president of the European Commission is warning that the omicron variant could become the dominant coronavirus variant across the 27-nation bloc by mid-January.
Ursula von der Leyen told members of the European Parliament Wednesday in Brussels that many member nations are already seeing a sharp rise in new infections from both omicron and the highly-contagious delta variant.
But she said the EU is prepared to fight the new variant, with 66.6% of the population, or more than 300 million people, fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and 62 million having received a booster shot. President von der Leyen said each nation has enough vaccine doses for every citizen to blunt the spread of omicron.
Von der Leyen’s warning comes a day after the World Health Organization warned the omicron variant of the coronavirus is likely present in most countries, even if it has not been detected.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Tuesday in Geneva that omicron “is spreading at a rate we have not seen with any previous variant” and warned that “the sheer number of cases could once again overwhelm unprepared health systems.”
Tedros also warned against complacency over omicron in the wake of early data that suggests it is a milder version than other known variants. “We have learned by now that we underestimate this virus at our peril,” he told reporters.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a similar warning Tuesday during a briefing with state and local health officials. The agency said new COVID-19 infections driven by omicron rose from just 0.4% to 2.9% between December 4 to 11. Officials said omicron is spreading so rapidly that the U.S. could be hit with a fresh wave of new infections as early as January driven by both omicron and the delta variant, combined with the annual winter outbreak of influenza.
Various studies have revealed the current COVID-19 vaccines in use around the world are not as effective in protecting against infection against omicron than other variants, but can still offer protection against severe disease, especially if the initial vaccination is followed by a booster shot.
Meanwhile, officials at Cornell University have ended most activities at its campus in Ithaca, New York after just over 900 students tested positive for COVID-19, with many of them infected with the omicron variant. Cornell President Martha Pollack announced in a letter to the student body Tuesday that final exams for the current fall semester will be conducted online, upcoming athletic events canceled and libraries, fitness centers and gyms have been closed. A ceremony for students graduating this month has also been canceled.
The university has raised its COVID-19 alert level to “red,” indicating a high risk of transmission among the school community. Students are being allowed to leave campus and return home once they test negative for the virus. At least 97% of all Cornell students are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.