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Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Crack Down Hard, or Wait and See? Europe splits on the Omicron response.

PARIS – The Dutch can now invite only two guests to their homes as part of the new lockdown. In Denmark, where masks and other social restrictions disappeared due to a successful vaccination campaign, cinemas, amusement parks, zoos and other establishments have closed once again.

In contrast, France has ruled out a lockdown, curfew or shutdown on a continent where new COVID-19 rules are being announced every day due to the rapid spread of the Omicron version. “The French exception,” the front page of Le Parisien, a newspaper, said on Monday.

For now, France – as well as Spain and, to a lesser extent, Italy – is betting that higher vaccine and booster coverage, along with earlier restrictions, will be enough to keep the coronavirus version manageable, adopting wait-and-seeking measures. The View attitude captures the Netherlands, Denmark and Britain as a sense of urgency.

The numbers explain why.

In London, the number of COVID cases rose 30 percent last week, and the mayor declared a “major event” – an emergency that frees up resources. Denmark is now reporting more than 9,000 new cases daily, one of the highest infection rates in the world. And the Netherlands became the first country in Europe to return to complete lockdown amid fears that a relatively small number of ICU beds would be overwhelmed.

Spain, Italy and France all have fewer Covid cases per 100,000 people than some of their northern neighbours, at least for now.

Antoine Flehault, director of the Institute of Global Health in Geneva, said countries in northern Europe “had a tendency to be more proactive, not wanting to overwhelm their hospitals.” For countries in the south, he said, restrictions and lockdowns are “always an act of last resort.”

In all countries, economic and political concerns – days before Christmas – are also guiding governments, amid uncertainty about how big a risk diversity is. Epidemiologists warn that even if Omicron is eventually shown to cause less severe disease, its rapid spread could send large numbers of people to hospitals.

The warnings recall some of the most precarious moments in the early days of the pandemic, with a growing number of European countries facing the prospect of a second Christmas in a row due to fears of lockdown-like measures, travel restrictions and rationing health care.

Governments are expediting booster shots as scientific evidence accumulates that two doses of the vaccine are insufficient to prevent infection, although the vaccines do reduce the risk of hospitalization and serious illness. The United States is watching Britain and Denmark carefully to see what might happen at home, as both countries are good at tracking variants.

In France, the government said there were now estimated to be hundreds of cases due to Omicron, and that it would be the dominant version by early next month. France reported an average of 52,471 coronavirus cases per day in the past week, according to a New York Times database, up 23 percent from the average two weeks ago.

President Emmanuel Macron’s government has encouraged vaccination by issuing health passes to people who have received the shot, and has managed to keep schools and most establishments open. More than 70 percent of the French population has received two doses, although some 6 million have yet to receive a single pill.

The new sanctions just four months before the presidential election would undermine that success.

The government is focusing on banning non-vaccinated people by making France’s health pass contingent on vaccination in the new year. At present, people with recent negative COVID test can also get the pass.

The government has also reduced the wait from five to four months before people get a booster shot. So far, about 17.5 million people have received boosters, or about 36 percent of the population have received two doses.

“It’s annoying, but this year’s Christmas spirit is at least more than last year, when we had a curfew,” said Sheriline Ramos, a student in communications with a friend along the Champs-lysées in Paris. was walking “We couldn’t go out and enjoy the Christmas decorations.”

In Spain, there is also little appetite to return to restrictions that became common during previous waves of the virus. Such a move before the Christmas holiday is considered politically and financially treacherous.

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Last week, officials raised the country’s alert level, and they now report 50 infections per 100,000 people, the fastest rate in months. But on Monday, Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez signaled a wait-and-see approach, noting that hospitalizations remained low compared to anywhere else in Europe and that vaccines appeared to be doing their job.

“Especially with the high contagion figures, we have less hospitalization and intensive care business than a year ago,” he said. “The first conclusion is that vaccination works and that only science can stop this health crisis.”

Medical experts agree that Spain’s high vaccination rates set it apart from other European countries. More than 80 percent of the country is fully vaccinated.

But some in the public health community objected to the government’s current approach. Rafael Villasanjuan, policy director at ISGlobal, a public health think tank in Barcelona, ​​said that as countries in northern Europe move urgently to try to slow the version, Spain could lose valuable time in overtaking it.

“We are not in a position where we can think that the vaccine is enough,” he said. “We may eventually be in the same situation as others who are hospitalized.”

Mr Vilasanjuan said the country should consider a number of measures that other countries have adopted, including establishing national vaccine passports and forcing citizens to avoid large meetings even during holidays. They noted that while omicron numbers had not yet risen to levels seen in some other countries, they had risen in cities such as Barcelona, ​​where they now account for about a third of PCR tests in some hospitals.

José Martínez Olmos, a former Spanish health official who now works as a professor at the Andalusian School of Public Health in Granada, said voluntary measures may not be enough in the long run. He said the government may soon need to impose new restrictions on public activities, such as limiting capacity in restaurants, hotels and theaters and reducing their hours of operation.

And, as difficult as it may be to implement in Spain, the government needs to encourage limits on Christmas activities, Mr Olmos said. “They need to recommend that people going to Christmas dinner try to stay inside as little as possible, because social interactions are the major risk,” he said.

In Italy, the government is considering implementing new measures amid concerns over Omicron, but Prime Minister Mario Draghi said on Monday that a final decision had not been made.

The government has given national priority to the vaccination campaign.

In October, Italy became the first major European country to require a “green pass” for all workers. Since then it has continued to tighten restrictions without vaccination. As of last week, people traveling to Italy from other European countries must show a recent negative rapid test and vaccination or proof of recovery, or else they could be quarantined.

The rapid spread of Omicron – particularly in the UK and Denmark, two countries with high vaccination rates – has worried many experts.

Denmark lifted all social restrictions in early September after a successful vaccination campaign. But last week, in addition to shutting down many public places, the government banned the serving of alcohol from 11 pm to 5 am and required a valid vaccine passport to travel in intercity buses and trains.

In the Netherlands, concerns over Omicron’s effects on the health care system prompted the government over the weekend to order the closure of all essential businesses until the second week of January. Guests allowed in people’s homes were limited to two, although on Christmas and New Year’s Eve four would be allowed.

Michel de Blaise, 33, who lives in Terneuzen, a city in the south of the Netherlands, said he supported the measures, but he considers the government’s lack of clarity and stability. Many parents are upset over the government’s decision to send school children home over the Christmas break a week ago, he said.

“You don’t know where you stand,” he said, “the general mood right now is gloom.”

Norimitsu Onishi reported from Paris and Nick Casey from Madrid. Reporting was contributed by Claire Moses and Shashank Bengali From London, Jasmina Nielsen from Copenhagen, Jose Bautista from Madrid, Elisabetta Povoledo from Rome, and Leontine Galois, Constant Méhet and Aurelian Breiden from Paris.

World Nation News Deskhttps://www.worldnationnews.com
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