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Nations Ease Pandemic Restrictions Amid Omicron Variant

By Catherine Corcoran

CHATTANOOGA,TN ( — As the Omicron variant cases rise, countries are easing restrictions. Restrictive measures are being lifted in  Europe and North America nearly two years into the pandemic.

Although the cases soar, Omicron is less likely to cause severe illness than the previous delta variant, according to studies. Omicron spreads even more easily than other coronavirus strains, and has already become dominant in many countries. It also more easily infects those who have been vaccinated or had previously been infected by prior versions of the virus.

WHO emergencies chief, Dr. Michael Ryan, said some countries could justifiably begin easing restrictions, but warned about a rush to the exits and advised that countries assess their own situations. 

According to WHO,more than 370 million cases and over 5.6 million deaths linked to COVID-19 have been reported worldwide. But, that’s not stopping countries from easing the pandemic restrictions. 

Europe, South Africa and the United States are the main nations easing their measures aimed to combat the coronavirus. Britain, France, Ireland, the Netherlands and several Nordic countries have also begun to take steps to end or ease their COVID-19 restrictions. Most recently, Sweden has lifted COVID restrictions.

Last week, England ended almost all domestic restrictions: Masks aren’t required in public and vaccine passes are no longer needed to get into events or other public venues,  the work-from-home order has also been lifted. 

One measure still being enforced is self-isolation after a positive COVID test. 

Norway lifted its ban on serving alcohol after 11 p.m. Norwegian tourists are no longer required to take a COVID-19 test before entry at the border. Although private gatherings must remain at 10 people or less. 

Austria, which was the first European country to order a vaccine mandate, is planning to loosen other COVID-19 restrictions this month and take steps like letting restaurants stay open later. 

“I think that the moment we have the feeling that we can loosen (restrictions) responsibly, federal and state governments will take that step,” German government spokesman Steffen Hebestreit said Monday. 

As some nations ease back on restrictions, others continue to buckle down. Italy has tightened its health pass requirements during the omicron surge. From Monday, its government requires at least a negative test within the previous 48 hours to enter banks and post offices, and anyone over age 50 who hasn’t been vaccinated risks a 100-euro fine. Similarly, Greece has ordered fines for individuals 60 and over refusing the vaccine. 

In Germany, where infections are still hitting daily records and officials are still concerned about a large number of unvaccinated older people, restrictions like curbs on private gatherings and requirements for people to show proof of vaccination or recovery to enter nonessential shops remain in place. The country’s leaders plan to review the situation on Feb. 16.

Other continents are being even more cautious. Some of the world’s highest vaccination rates are found in Asia where its leaders are holding to stricter lockdown measures or even tightening them.

Asia’s highest vaccine rate is located in Singapore. Eighty seven percent of its population has at least two shots. Even with the high vaccination rate, the country maintains its restrictions. 

Preventive measures such as face masks in public as well as social distancing are continued to be enforced in Thailand. Sixty nine percent of the nation’s population is fully vaccinated but the restrictions remain. 

In the United States, local leaders served up a hodgepodge of responses. The city of Denver announced Monday an upcoming end to its mask mandates for businesses and public spaces, while keeping them for city schools and public transport. A move in the state of New York, where omicron cases peaked, then plunged, since late December, is tied up in the courts.

About Catherine Corcoran

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