That Netherlands has lifted its toughest Covid controls, Denmark is to remove all restrictions within days and France will start easing the curbs next week as many – but not all – EU countries choose to reopen despite record high infection rates.
The measures come as data show that hospital and intensive care units are not increasing in line with cases, and after the World Health Organization suggested that the Omicron variant – which studies show is more contagious but usually less severe for vaccinated people – could signal a new, more manageable phase of the pandemic.
Dutch bars, restaurants and museums were allowed to reopen on Wednesday after Prime Minister Mark Rutte said the government was “deliberately looking for the limits of what is possible” as case numbers continued to reach new daily heights.
Admissions and deaths in intensive care have, however, fallen Netherlandsand Health Minister Ernst Kuipers said a decision to extend restrictive measures would have risked “harming our health and our society”.
Cafés, bars and restaurants closed since mid-December can now reopen with reduced capacity and until 1 p.m. 22.00, as long as customers have a Covid passport, with cinemas, theaters, museums and sporting events also allowed to welcome the public back.
That dansk The government, which two weeks ago allowed cinemas and venues to reopen after a month-long closure, also announced plans on Wednesday to scrap the remaining domestic coronavirus checks from Feb. 1. The move – which must be approved by parliament – will allow nightclubs to reopen, restaurants to serve alcohol after 6 p.m. Vaccine cards will no longer be needed and commuters can travel without wearing masks.
Like the Netherlands, Denmark has set successive new daily infection records. But while coronavirus-related hospitalizations have increased, health officials say 30-40% of patients with a positive test are in the hospital for reasons other than Covid.
“There has been a decoupling in the trend earlier in the epidemic, between rising infection and increase in Covid admissions,” the government’s expert advisory panel said. The number of Covid patients on intensive care has almost halved since the beginning of January.
Belgium last week announced a slight easing of its restrictions from Friday despite record high infections, with bars and restaurants may remain open until midnight, and indoor activities such as play areas and bowling alleys may reopen.
The country’s current Omicron wave is not expected to peak in fourteen days, but hospitalizations are rising far more slowly than infections, and the number of patients in intensive care is declining. “The situation is manageable,” said virologist Steven Van Gucht.
France Tuesday reported a new daily record of 501,635 new cases, but again, while hospital admissions have increased, there are only about half as many patients on intensive care as during previous waves, and the number has been declining since January 12th.
Health Minister Olivier Véran said the peak of the current coronavirus wave should be reached within the next few days, while Prime Minister Jean Castex last week announced a timetable for lifting February 2 Covid restrictions.
Castex said France’s vaccine pass, which has been required since Monday to enter restaurants, cinemas and other public venues, would allow audience capacity limits for concert halls and sporting events and other events to be lifted, as work from home is no longer mandatory for many employees and face masks not needed outside.
However, some countries are not yet ready to ease the restrictions. SwedenHealth Minister Lena Hallengren on Wednesday extended the pandemic edge by another two weeks due to “an extremely high level of proliferation”, meaning bars and restaurants will continue to close at 6pm.
IN Germany, which on Wednesday reported a new 24-hour record of 164,000 infections, MPs are preparing to debate proposals to either require or strongly encourage vaccination. About 74% of the population has received at least one dose, less than in France, Italy or Spain, but the government is divided over a possible vaccine mandate. Options include requiring all adult residents to be vaccinated against Covid, only those over 50, or simply mandating counseling for unvaccinated people.
WHO Europe Director-General Hans Kluge said on Sunday that it was “plausible” that the region was “moving towards a kind of pandemic endgame” and that Omicron could have infected 60% of the continent’s inhabitants in March.
Once the current increase is over, immunity through infection or vaccination should last “quite a few weeks and months”, Kluge told Agence-France Presse, adding that Covid may return at the end of the year, but not necessarily as a pandemic .
However, he warned that it was still too early to consider Covid as endemic. “There is a lot of talk about endemic, but endemic means it is possible to predict what will happen. This virus has surprised us more than once,” he said, adding that other variants could still emerge.