European governments are relaxing COVID-19 rules to maintain hospitals, schools and emergency services as the far more contagious but less deadly Omicron variant changes their approach to the pandemic.
Even though a record rise in infections has yet to peak in Europe, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said the time had come to start assessing the evolution of the disease “with different parameters”.
The massive return of children to school after the Christmas holidays is proof that few want to see a return to the online-only learning that marked some of the early waves of infection.
Even as France recorded a record seven-day average of nearly 270,000 cases a day, it relaxed testing protocols for schoolchildren, saying too many classes were closed.
In Uganda, students returned to institutions that closed nearly two years ago. The lockdown has helped control the pandemic – with just 3,300 deaths recorded – but the government estimates around a third of pupils will never return.
European governments also imposed severe lockdowns in the early stages of the pandemic – with enormous damage to economies – but now want to avoid this, knowing that Omicron is sending far fewer people to hospital, not least because many or most are vaccinated.
They are also suffering from immediate staff shortages in essential services as Omicron leads to an increase in positive tests.
In France, the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 rose by 767, the biggest increase since April 2021, although the total number, at 22,749, was still around two-thirds of the peak, set in November 2020.
Britain has started using military personnel to support health care and has alerted its largest private health company that it may be required to provide treatment, including cancer surgery.
Spain was bringing back retired doctors. In Italy, the challenge of nearly 13,000 absent health workers with positive COVID-19 tests has been compounded by suspensions for non-vaccination.
Britain, Switzerland, Spain and Belgium have all reduced quarantine periods and relaxed conditions for staff to return to work.
The Czech Republic followed suit on Monday, saying essential staff, including teachers, social workers and doctors, could continue to work even after testing positive.
Since before Christmas, Spain has let staff return to work without taking a test.
The Department of Health has also set a viral load threshold below which an infected person who takes a PCR test can be considered non-infectious and therefore fit to work – allowing doctors, social workers and some police officers to report at work even if they test positive. .
As school classes resumed in Spain, Italy, Portugal, the Netherlands and parts of Germany, young people faced a range of measures, from masks and fans in classrooms to parents not being allowed through the doors and the prospect of a return to learning at home if the case. the numbers exceeded certain limits.
The Omicron variant is in decline in southern Africa, where it was first detected in November.
A former top World Health Organization official has predicted that Omicron will be the last big kick of the pandemic.
“Pandemics do not end with a huge boom but with small waves because so many people have been infected or vaccinated,” Rafael Bengoa, also co-founder of the Institute for Health and Strategy in Bilbao, told Reuters. .
“After Omicron, we should only worry about small waves.”
India has seen an eightfold increase in daily infections over the past 10 days, although hospitalizations are much lower than in the previous wave caused by the Delta variant.
Australian Associated Press