By Peter Kenny
GENEVA (AA) - A World Health Organization official on Friday urged people to “be smart, be safe, and be kind” this holiday season, amid surging cases of delta and omicron variants of the coronavirus.
"The European Region was the epicenter of the pandemic even before the emergence of omicron, with surging cases of the delta variant," Hans Kluge, the WHO director for Europe, said.
Kluge said people are understandably concerned and that entering the "holiday season," the world is dealing with two highly transmissible variants.
"But this does not have to be a repeat of last year when Christmas was canceled for so many, and families were unable to meet," said Kluge.
"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 stabilizers help us manage the virus and keep people safe."
WHO's Europe Region countries extend from Greenland in the northwest to the Russian Far East. Kluge urged the people of the 53 countries in the region to get vaccinated as soon as possible.
"Vaccines remain the best way to prevent severe disease and death, even with the arrival of the omicron variant. If you are eligible for a third dose and it is available to you, take it," said the WHO regional chief.
He said that people planning to attend social gatherings with friends and family should keep them small and, if available, take lateral flow/antigen or PCR tests beforehand to make sure that they are not infectious.
"Follow other preventive measures, even if you are fully vaccinated. Avoid crowded or confined places. If you can't, wear a well-fitting mask," urged Kluge.
He called on people to observe physical distancing of at least one meter, ventilate indoor spaces by opening windows or doors and keep their hands clean.
People should seek reliable sources of information that provide advice based on the latest evidence and scientific consensus.
"We have come a long way since last year. We know what works. We know how to keep ourselves and others safe," said Kluge.
"The emergence of omicron doesn't change that. WHO/Europe is in regular contact with experts across the Region and will share further information as soon as it is available."