One-on-one with Hans Kluge, the WHO's Regional Director for Europe - The Agenda
The Agenda
The world is in a race against time...hope for the best, but prepare for the worst
 -  Ursula von der Leyen, European Commission President


Those haunting words came from the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, at a recent news conference. She was of course, referring to Omicron. Until this new COVID-19 variant arrived, countries were rolling out booster vaccines and governments thought the worst might be behind us, but with mounting numbers of cases and variants being detected, dozens of countries have decided to close their doors and impose travel restrictions once again.

Omicron has brought Covid complacency to an abrupt end. Masks, social distancing and even lockdowns are returning – and fast. It has also reopened the debate around mandatory vaccinations.

The World Health Organization continues to lead countries through the many unknowns. So, this week, Stephen Cole speaks to Hans Kluge, the World Health Organization's (WHO) Regional Director for Europe, to find out what we know about Omicron and what it could mean for vaccines, our health and future freedoms.


Hans Henri P. Kluge was appointed Regional Director for Europe in February 2020, having originally joined the world health body in 1999.

Kluge began his career as a family doctor in Belgium. He qualified in medicine, surgery and obstetrics at the Catholic University of Leuven and has since gained 25 years experience in medical practice and public health around the world.

He's also a former Regional Tuberculosis Advisor to medical relief organization, Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders).


When asked by Stephen Cole why Omicron is causing concern amongst scientists and medical experts, Kluge explained it was due to the uncertainty surrounding the variant's characteristics: "Omicron has a number of mutations we haven't seen before, and a number of limitations that could lead to a faster transmission, a higher risk of reinfection and some escape. But then there are also preliminary studies that it may attack less severely. So that's why I'm betting we should be (concerned).

"Ultimately, we are not in the business of fighting one variant, we are in the business of fighting all variants."

Asked about whether it would be sensible to celebrate Christmas with friends and family this year, despite the circumstances, Kluge said it's about managing risk:

"We should absolutely celebrate Christmas, but celebrate safely in your bubble. Take a self-test if you go somewhere and be your own risk manager. We have to act responsibly.

"The people are not the problem. The people are the solution. And of course, the political leaders have to set the example. If the political leaders are not following the WHO recommendations, then of course, this is absolutely a catastrophe."


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