Late-night clubbering Movie theaters offer elbow-to-elbow seating. In North America and Europe, it is becoming more common to wear masks in public.
These early steps to relax precautions based on decreasing or flattening case count in recent days could represent another turning point in an almost two-year pandemic.
Over the past 10 weeks, 90 million cases have been reported worldwide from the extremely contagious Omicron. This is more than was seen in the entire year 2020, which was the first year of the outbreak.
The World Health Organization said this week that some countries could now reconsider the rules if their immunity rates are high, their health systems are strong, and they are following the correct epidemiological trends.
The number of new cases in the world for the week Jan. 24-30 was similar to that of the previous week. However, the number of deaths rose 9% to over 59,000. This is due to the usual delay between infection and death according to the U.N. Health agency.
The United States and South Africa are experiencing the most severe restrictions pullbacks. They have been for months the epicenter of pandemics around the globe. As in South Africa, the number of COVID-19 cases rose initially in Britain and the U.S. but is now falling rapidly.
Local leaders in the United States have offered a variety of responses. Denver has decided to eliminate the need for proof of vaccination for public and private spaces and keep them in place for schools and public transport.
The governor of New York plans to examine whether the state should keep its mask mandate. This is at a time where hospitalizations and cases have dropped in the early omicron hotspot. New York City has an average of 4,200 cases per day, as compared to 41,000 in January’s first week.
The U.S. is also on a similar path, with infection rates dropping from over 800,000. per day two weeks ago to just 430,000 this week.
England, France and Ireland have all taken steps to ease or eliminate their restrictions. Some countries, such as Norway and Denmark, have seen a gradual decrease in case numbers, even though they are not yet at their highest. Some governments bet that the pandemic will recede.
“Rest assured, that the worst days have passed,” stated Fahrettin Koca, Turkey’s Health Minister. Tuesday was a record-breaking day for the country, with 100,000 daily infections.
England lifted almost all domestic restrictions last week. Publicly, masks are not required, vaccination passes are no longer required to enter public venues, and there is no work-from-home restriction. One condition remains: People who have tested positive for HIV still need to be isolated.
Norway lifted Tuesday’s ban on alcohol consumption after 11 p.m., and its cap on private gatherings exceeding 10 persons. Fixed seating allows people to sit again elbow-to-elbow at events, while sports events can continue as before the pandemic.
Ingvild Kjerkol, Norwegian Health Minister, stated Tuesday that “now it’s time to take back our daily life.” “Tonight we will scrap most measures in order to live a normal lifestyle.”
Many people still wore masks in the streets and shops of Copenhagen, the capital of Denmark. This was despite the fact that Denmark took the lead among European Union member countries on Tuesday by removing most restrictions.
Kjeld Rasmussen (86), a retired Danish citizen, said that he still wears a mask to protect himself and others who are less healthy or have health problems. “I have a variety of health conditions so it is a good way for me to tell others to keep your distance.
Worldwide, more than 370 million cases of COVID-19-related deaths have been reported.
There is hope that the virus will be released from its grip in some areas, and that it will no longer pose a threat to people’s health.
Switzerland announced Wednesday that it would no longer require quarantine and work-at-home requirements. It also announced plans to relax other restrictions over the coming weeks.
The government stated that there are growing signs that the acute crises will soon end and that the endemic phase could be beginning.
Although omicron is less likely than the delta variant to cause severe illness, experts warn people not to underestimate it or let their guard down for new, more dangerous mutants.
“We are concerned about the spread of a myth in some countries that vaccines have made transmission impossible and unnecessary,” Tedros Adhanom Gheybreysus, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Gheybreysus stated Tuesday. Nothing could be further from truth.
Dr. Michael Ryan (who is WHO’s emergency chief) warned that some countries could open up to political pressure and that this could lead to unneeded transmission, severe disease, and death.
Many countries are following their own path, just as they did during the pandemic. Italy increased its requirements for health passes in the wake of the omicron surge. It requires at least one negative test within 48 hours of the omicron surge to gain entry to banks and post offices. Anyone over 50 without vaccinating could face a 100-euro ($113 fine).
Austria, the first European country that imposed a vaccine mandate in Europe, plans to relax COVID-19 restrictions and allow restaurants to stay open later. People 60 years and older who refuse to get vaccinated in Greece will be subject to fines.
Germany has a history of infections that continues to set daily records. There are restrictions on private gatherings in Germany and people must show proof of their vaccinations or recovery to be allowed to shop at nonessential stores.
Steffen Hebestreit, a spokesperson for the German government, said Monday that “I believe that the moment that we feel that we can loosen responsibility,” federal and state governments would take that step. It is still a little premature at this point.
Others continents are more cautious. Asia has some of the highest rates of vaccination in the world, and its leaders have been urging stricter security measures or tightening them now.
Tonga, a remote Pacific island nation, was placed under lockdown Wednesday after two workers who were helping distribute aid following a tsunami and volcanic eruption discovered that they had contracted infections. The country has so far been free from viruses.
China’s zero-COVID policy is being maintained just days before the Beijing Winter Olympics. China imposes tight lockdowns and quarantines when any cases are detected quickly, mandates masks for public transport, and requires that people show “green” status on a Health App to be allowed into most restaurants and shops.
South Africa announced this week that it had exited the fourth wave. Scientific studies have shown that immunity has reached 60% to 80%. While masks are still required, a curfew was lifted and schools must be fully open (not just partially) for the first time since March 2020.
The Public Health Association of South Africa’s Dr. Atiya Moam said that such steps are a practical step towards acknowledging COVID-19’s presence, even though there might be a milder form.
Mosam stated, “We acknowledge transmission and balance people’s needs to live their lives.”