Countries ease restrictions after omicron spikes | European | News and current affairs from across the continent | DW

France: overwhelmed schools

For the past few weeks, France has recorded nearly 300,000 new COVID-19 infections per day. The surge in cases is mainly due to the highly contagious omicron variant of the coronavirus. The lower house of the French parliament gave its final approval on Sunday to the government’s latest measures to slow the spread, including a “vaccine pass” which will replace the current “health pass”. It aims to tighten restrictions on unvaccinated people.

The upcoming law will require people to show proof of vaccination to access restaurants, bars, cultural institutions, planes and long-distance trains. At the moment, people can access these places by showing a recent negative test. The new law will also contain strict provisions to crack down on people who use fake vaccine passes.

Schools have remained open in France almost throughout the pandemic

Despite the jump in cases, schools, which closed only briefly in France at the start of the pandemic, remain open. On Thursday, teaching staff staged a nationwide strike to protest the ever-changing rules to protect students and staff, as well as the lack of clear regulations that have led to major disruption in classrooms.

For example, the government announced new testing requirements just before the end of the Christmas holidays – and they have since been changed twice.

Denmark: restrictions eased

Unlike Paris, life on the streets of Copenhagen is largely normal, with little to indicate that the Danish capital has also seen a high incidence rate of COVID-19. In fact, it has been at record highs for weeks and currently sits at 2,500. More than 20,000 people are infected with the coronavirus every day. Nevertheless, from Sunday, zoos, amusement parks, cinemas and theaters were allowed to reopen, with access granted to those vaccinated, cured of the virus or tested.

Entrance to a mall, sign asking people to wear face masks

Denmark has opened many public places, despite the high number of COVID-19 infections

Infections with the omicron variant are milder and the situation in intensive care units is under control, Health Minister Magnus Heunicke said. He said that although cases remain high, the curve of new infections is stabilizing. More than anything, Denmark relies on a high vaccination rate – more than 80% of the population is fully vaccinated and almost 55% have received a booster shot. The Minister of Health has announced that particularly vulnerable population groups will soon receive a fourth vaccination.

Spain: “Not finished”

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said last week that, in order to protect the overburdened healthcare system, the trend in the number of infections would not be monitored as closely as before. Sanchez said that given that Spain has a vaccination rate of over 80% and that omicron leads to milder disease courses than previous variants, it was time to consider whether it was time to treat COVID-19 like a flu wave.

People wearing masks walk along a shopping street

In Spain, which is struggling with a rise in COVID cases, people are also wearing face masks outside

With the country reporting more than 130,000 new infections a day and intensive care units across the country being overwhelmed, the Spanish government shouldn’t compare COVID-19 to the flu, Oscar Zurriaga has said. “The pandemic is not over yet, and we don’t know where it will take us,” the vice-president of the Spanish Society of Epidemiology told the dpa news agency, adding that the number of deaths from COVID is always higher than that of an average. flu wave.

The rules vary across the country. While the capital, Madrid, has only a general mask requirement despite a seven-day incidence rate of over 1,100, several other regions in Spain have introduced stricter rules. In Asturias, indoor dining is no longer allowed and Catalonia has a nighttime curfew.

Britain: Rise in cases, no lockdown

The situation in the UK is similar to that in Spain, with high infection and vaccination rates. Some experts have proclaimed the end of the pandemic, while others still urge caution.

Sajid Javid, man wearing face mask, two women with face masks in background

UK Health Minister Javid visited COVID patients at a London hospital in December

The seven-day incidence rate stands at more than 1,500, including around 170,000 new infections every day. Nonetheless, former UK Vaccine Task Force chief Clive Dix calls for a return to a “new normal”, saying the omicron variant has flu-like death rates. Dix advocates a “targeted strategy” for particularly vulnerable populations. More than 90% of people had a vaccine, more than 60% had a booster. The incidence rate may be high, but the curve flattens.

On Thursday, the quarantine for people infected with COVID in England was reduced from seven to five days to cushion staff shortages in businesses, schools and hospitals. Regulations are stricter in other parts of the UK. In early January, 200 military personnel were sent to hospitals in London to help with staff absent due to the virus. The number of postponed scheduled operations reached a new record of six million.

China: zero tolerance

Unlike many European countries, there are no signs of easing restrictions in China, even though the incidence rate has been near zero for months. Three major cities are currently confined: Xi’an with its 13 million inhabitants, Anyang with 5.5 million and Yuzhou with one million inhabitants.

In China, a large white tent, rows of tables with people seated on each side

A mass testing site in Tianjin, China

Lockdowns are part of the country’s strict zero COVID strategy. As soon as a few cases appear, entire towns are quarantined. All residents are tested and not allowed to leave their homes; close contacts of infected people are forced to stay in quarantine hotels. China has a mandatory COVI contact tracing app. International air travel is still severely restricted, with arriving passengers forced to spend weeks in quarantine.

So far, China has only officially recorded around 100,000 cases of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic – more people are infected in a single day in France or Spain. Aside from regional shutdowns, life in China has largely returned to normal. Nonetheless, the zero-COVID strategy is expected to remain in place at least until the Beijing Winter Olympics in mid-March.

This article has been translated from German.

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