Netherlands lifts toughest Covid restrictions, Denmark and France to follow | Coronavirus
the Netherlands lifted its strictest Covid controls, Denmark is to remove all restrictions within a few days and France will start easing the brakes next week as many EU countries – but not all – choose to reopen despite record numbers of infections.
The changes come as data shows hospital and intensive care admissions are not increasing as cases go, and after the World Health Organization suggested that the Omicron variant – which studies show more contagious but generally less severe for vaccinated people – may 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 ‘consciously looking for the limits of what is possible’ as the number of cases continued to reach new levels daily highs.
However, ICU admissions and deaths have declined over the past Netherlands, and Health Minister Ernst Kuipers said a decision to extend the restrictive measures would have risked “damaging our health and our society”.
Cafes, bars and restaurants closed since mid-December can now reopen with reduced capacity and until 10 p.m. as long as customers have a Covid pass, with cinemas, theatres, museums and sporting events also allowed to welcome back in the public.
the Danish The government, which two weeks ago allowed cinemas and concert halls to reopen after a month of closure, also announced plans on Wednesday to scrap remaining national coronavirus controls from February 1. The move – which must be approved by parliament – will allow nightclubs to reopen, restaurants to serve alcohol after 10 p.m. and shops to lift limits on the number of customers. Vaccine passes will no longer be required and commuters will be able to travel without wearing a mask.
Like the Netherlands, Denmark has set recent and successive daily infection records. But as coronavirus-related hospitalizations have increased, health authorities say 30-40% of patients who test positive are hospitalized for reasons other than Covid.
“There was a decoupling in the trend at the start of the epidemic, between the increase in infection and the increase in Covid hospitalizations,” the government’s expert advisory group said. The number of Covid patients in intensive care has almost halved since the beginning of January.
Belgium announced last week a slight easing of its restrictions from Friday despite record infections, with bars and restaurants allowed to stay open until midnight and indoor activities such as playgrounds and bowling alleys to reopen.
The country’s current Omicron wave is not expected to peak for another fortnight, but hospital admissions are rising at a much slower rate than infections and the number of intensive care patients is falling. “The situation is manageable,” said virologist Steven Van Gucht.
France reported a new daily record of 501,635 new cases on Tuesday but, again, as hospital admissions have increased, only about half of patients are in intensive care compared to previous waves, and the number is in down since January 12.
Health Minister Olivier Véran said the peak of the current coronavirus wave is expected to be reached in the coming days, while Prime Minister Jean Castex last week announced a timetable for lifting Covid restrictions at from February 2.
Castex said France’s vaccination pass, required since Monday to enter restaurants, cinemas and other public places, would lift audience capacity limits for concert halls and sporting and other events, with working from home also no longer being mandatory for many employees and face masks not needed outdoors.
Some countries, however, are not yet ready to ease restrictions. SwedenHealth Minister Lena Hallengren on Wednesday extended pandemic curbs for another two weeks due to an “extremely high level of spread”, meaning bars and restaurants must continue to close at 11 p.m. .
In Germany, which reported a new 24-hour record of 164,000 infections on Wednesday, MPs are preparing to debate proposals to 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 on a possible vaccine mandate. The options are to require all adult residents to be vaccinated against Covid, only those over the age of 50, or simply to impose advice on those who are not vaccinated.
WHO Europe director Hans Kluge said on Sunday it was “plausible” that the region was “heading for some sort of pandemic endgame” and that Omicron could have infected 60% of people on the continent of here March.
Once the current surge is over, immunity through infection or vaccination should last “quite a few weeks and months”, Kluge told Agence-France Presse, adding that Covid could return at the end of the year but not necessarily in the form of a pandemic.
He warned, however, that it was still too early to consider Covid as endemic. “We talk a lot about endemic, but endemic means that it is possible to predict what will happen. This virus surprised us more than once,” he said, adding that other variants may yet emerge.