The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) has published the eighteenth update of its rapid risk assessment (RRA). This extends the assessment on the circulation of the Delta variant of concern (VOC) and projections for the winter period that had been published November 24, 2021. They include the emergence and spread of the Omicron VOC, according to an ECDC press release.
The inclusion of updated forecasts were informed by the latest evidence on Omicron VOC epidemiology, transmissibility, severity, and immune escape.
According to a statement by ECDC Director Dr. Andrea Ammon:
“... 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 Omicron in the European Union/European Economic Area (UE/EEA) as very high, and it is considered very likely to cause additional hospitalizations and fatalities, and signifies a change from previous forecasts that consider only the Delta variant.”
Vaccination alone is unlikely to prevent Omicron’s impact, said Ammon, “because of insufficient time to address vaccination gaps that still exist.”
Ammon recommends rapid reintroduction and strengthening of non-pharmaceutical interventions, such as face masks, telework, and avoiding public transportation and public spaces, “ to reduce the ongoing Delta transmission, slow down the spread of the Omicron variant of concern and keep the COVID-19-related burden manageable.”
Countries may expect a strong resurgence of cases if they lift these interventions, Ammons said. She recommends contact tracing, regardless of a patient’s vaccination status and regular testing.