While much of the public discussion has revolved

An official for the agency cited “a new west-to-east tidal wave sweeping across the region.” In the U.S., Chicago’s mayor announced a deal with teachers over coronavirus safeguards that would reopen classrooms.

Here’s what you need to know:
As Covid sweeps Europe, the W.H.O. warns of ‘a closing window to act now.’
Chicago schools will reopen as teachers and the city reach a deal over virus safeguards.
Boris Johnson is back under pressure over another Downing Street party.
Australia is investigating whether Novak Djokovic violated travel rules.
Despite Omicron, Los Angeles students are going back to class.
U.S. hospitalizations surpass last winter’s peak.
The World Bank warns that the pandemic will slow economic growth in 2022.
Hong Kong closes kindergarten and elementary schools, and begins vaccinating 5- to 11-year-olds.
Listen to ‘The Daily’ about why this virus surge feels different from earlier ones.
As Covid sweeps Europe, the W.H.O. warns of ‘a closing window to act now.’

Covid Cases in Europe More Than Doubled in Two Weeks, W.H.O. Says
The World Health Organization warned that more than half of people in Europe could be infected with the Omicron coronavirus variant in the next six to eight weeks.
The region saw over seven million newly reported cases of Covid-19 in the first week of 2022, more than doubling over a two-week period. 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 six to eight weeks. The currently approved vaccines do continue to provide good protection against severe disease and death, including for Omicron. But because of the unprecedented scale of transmission, we are now seeing rising Covid-19 hospitalizations. It is challenging health systems and service delivery in many countries where Omicron has spread at speed, and threatens to overwhelm in many more. I am also deeply concerned that as the variant moves east, we have yet to see its full impact in countries where levels of vaccination uptake are lower, and where we will see more severe disease in the unvaccinated. For countries not yet hit by the Omicron surge, there is a closing window of opportunity to act now and plan for contingencies.

Covid Cases in Europe More Than Doubled in Two Weeks, W.H.O. Says
The World Health Organization warned that more than half of people in Europe could be infected with the Omicron coronavirus variant in the next six to eight weeks.CreditCredit…Francois Mori/Associated Press
More than half of people in Europe could be infected with the Omicron variant of the coronavirus in the next six to eight weeks, the World Health Organization warned on Tuesday, amid “a new west-to-east tidal wave sweeping across the region.”

“The region saw over seven million cases of Covid-19 in the first week of 2022, more than doubling over a two-week period,” Hans Kluge, the agency’s regional director for Europe, said at a news conference.

While coronavirus vaccines remain remarkably effective at preventing severe illness and death, the agency cautioned against treating the virus like the seasonal flu, since much remains unknown — particularly regarding the severity of the disease in areas with lower vaccination rates, such as Eastern Europe.

The W.H.O. has cautioned for months that booster shots could worsen vaccine equity around the world, but Dr. Kluge said on Tuesday that they would play an essential role in protecting the most vulnerable people from severe disease and should also be used to protect health workers and other essential employees, including teachers.

Since Omicron was first detected in late November, it has torn across the planet at a pace unseen during two years of the pandemic. As friends, co-workers and family members test positive, the reality that the virus is moving quickly and widely has been a defining feature of this wave of infection.

Global coronavirus cases by region
This chart shows how reported cases per capita have changed in different parts of the world.

Sources: Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University and state and local health agencies (cases); World Bank and U.S. Census Bureau (population data).
But the steep rise that Mr. Kluge cited, based on forecasts by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, is a stark paradigm shift. Although the institute’s models have frequently been criticized by experts, it is clear that the virus is spreading quickly. Even if many people avoid severe illness, the virus promises to cause societal disruption across the continent.

While much of the public discussion has revolved around whether this was the moment when governments should shift policies and restrictions to treat the coronavirus as an endemic disease — removing most restrictions and allowing people to manage risk in a way similar to the way they do with influenza — the W.H.O. said it was too early to call this virus endemic.

Catherine Smallwood, a W.H.O. senior emergencies officer, said that one of the key factors in declaring the virus to be endemic was some sense of predictability.

“We are still ways off,” she said. “We still have a huge amount of uncertainty.”

Dr. Kluge added that there were simply too many unknown factors, including exactly how severe Omicron is for unvaccinated people and how high the risk is of infection leading to “long Covid” symptoms.

“I am also deeply concerned that as the variant moves east, we have yet to see its full impact in countries where levels of vaccination uptake are lower, and where we will see more severe disease in the unvaccinated,” he said.

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Nations in the Balkans and Eastern Europe, where Omicron is just starting to spread widely, have much lower rates of vaccination than nations in Western Europe.

“For countries not yet hit with the omicron surge, there is a closing window to act now and plan for contingencies,” he said.

One of the central struggles of governments across Europe has been trying to keep schools open, and Dr. Kluge described those efforts as essential.

“Schools should be the last places to close and the first to reopen,” he said, although he added that “the numbers of infected people are going to be so high in many places that schools in many countries are going to be unable to keep all classes open” because of illness and staff shortages.

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