Top US scientist Anthony Fauci expressed similar optimism on Sunday.
He told ABC News talk show This Week that with Covid-19 cases coming down “rather sharply” in parts of the United States, “things are looking good”.
While cautioning against over confidence, he said that if the recent fall in case numbers in areas like the US’s northeast continues “I believe that you will start to see a turnaround throughout the entire country”.
The WHO regional office for Africa also said last week that cases of Covid-19 had plummeted in that region and deaths were declining for the first time since the Omicron-dominated fourth wave of the virus reached its peak.
The Omicron variant, which studies have shown is more contagious than Delta but generally leads to less severe infection among vaccinated people, has raised long-awaited hopes that Covid-19 is starting to shift from a pandemic to a more manageable endemic illness like seasonal flu.
But Kluge cautioned that it was still too early to consider Covid-19 endemic.
“There is a lot of talk about endemic but endemic means … that it is possible to predict what’s going to happen. This virus has surprised (us) more than once so we have to be very careful,” Kluge said.
With Omicron spreading so widely, other variants could still emerge, he warned.
WHO says new vaccine to combat Omicron likely needed amid fears variant could infect half of Europe
The European Commissioner for Internal Markets, Thierry Breton, whose brief includes vaccine production, said on Sunday that it will be possible to adapt existing vaccines to any new variants that may emerge.
“We will be able to better resist, including to new variants”, he told French television LCI.
“We will be ready to adapt the vaccines, especially the mRNA ones, if necessary to adapt them to more virulent variants”.
In the WHO Europe region, which comprises 53 countries including several in Central Asia, Omicron represented 15 per cent of new cases as of January 18, compared to 6.3 per cent a week earlier, the health body said.
Omicron is now the dominant variant in the European Union and the European Economic Area (EEA, or Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein), the EU health agency ECDC said last week.
Because of the very fast spread of the variant across Europe, Kluge said emphasis ought to be on “minimising disruption of hospitals, schools and the economy, and putting huge efforts on protecting the vulnerable”, rather than measures to stop transmission.
He meanwhile urged people to exercise personal responsibility.
“If you don’t feel well, stay home, take a self test. If you’re positive, isolate”, he said.
A patient receives a coronavirus vaccination in Vienna, Austria. Photo: AP
Kluge said the priority was to stabilise the situation in Europe, where vaccination levels range across countries from 25 to 95 per cent of the population, leading to varying degrees of strain on hospitals and health care system.
“Stabilising means that the health system is no longer overwhelmed due to Covid-19 and can continue with the essential health services, which have unfortunately been really disrupted for cancer, cardiovascular disease, and routine immunisation”.
Asked whether fourth doses would be necessary to bring an end to the pandemic, Kluge was cautious, saying only that “we know that that immunity jumps up after each shot of the vaccine”.