A pedestrian zone in Oslo on February 2, 2022, after Norway removed most of its Covid restrictions.
Terje Pedersen | ENB | AFP | Getty Images
LONDON — Several European countries are abandoning Covid regulations, although the WHO is urging governments to “protect their people using every tool in the toolbox”.
Sweden lifted the majority of its remaining Covid-19 restrictions on Wednesday, along with fellow Nordic countries Denmark and Norway.
Meanwhile, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson this week announced plans to end self-isolation rules for people who test positive for Covid sooner than expected.
In Sweden, social distancing requirements, the use of vaccine passports and limits on the number of people gathering in one place were lifted this week. Free testing in the country also ended on Wednesday, and the government is seeking to reclassify Covid as a disease that “does not constitute a danger to society or a threat to public health” from April 1.
In a press release last week, the Swedish government said it believed the situation was “stable enough to start phasing out infection control measures”.
“Vaccination is the most important weapon in the fight against Covid-19,” he added.
In Sweden, 73% of the population is fully vaccinated, according to Johns Hopkins University.
“Still a little patience”
However, Fredrik Elgh, professor of virology at Sweden’s Umea University, told Reuters the country needed to “have a little more patience” and wait at least a few more weeks before lifting the restrictions.
“We are rich enough to continue testing,” he said. “The disease is always a huge pressure on society.”
It comes after Denmark became the first EU country to lift all of its Covid restrictions on February 1, despite rising cases. Infections in the country hit record highs just a day later.
The Danish government said in a statement in January that it had decided that “Covid-19 should no longer be classified as a socially critical disease”.
More than 80% of the Danish population is fully vaccinated against the virus, according to JHU data.
“Vaccines offering protection”
Norway also lifted “a large number of Covid-19 measures” on February 1, but maintained its recommendation to maintain a distance of one meter from others and the obligation to wear a mask when this is not possible. .
“Even though many people are infected with Covid-19, fewer people are admitted to hospital,” Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store said in a statement at the time. “Vaccines offer good protection – this means that we can now remove a large number of measures, even if the infection rate is increasing rapidly.”
Norway recorded a record 26,109 new cases on Tuesday, according to JHU data.
In the UK this week, Johnson told lawmakers in Parliament that his government planned to lift the legal requirement for people with Covid to self-isolate at the end of this month.
Currently, people who test positive for the virus can end their isolation after five days provided they test negative on day five and six. Many of the few remaining restrictions in England, including mask mandates, were lifted at the end of January.
On Wednesday, the UK recorded 68,214 new cases of Covid-19.
But while Sweden, Norway and Denmark recorded 114, 45 and 21 virus deaths respectively on Wednesday, the UK recorded 276.
Cases in Britain have fallen significantly from their peak of more than 270,000 in a single day late last year, with deaths also falling significantly from their peak of 1,299 in January 2021.
But while Covid cases have become decoupled from deaths in the UK since vaccines were rolled out, other risk factors, like the prevalence of the long Covid, remains. A recent English study found that up to one in seven children who contracted the virus developed long Covid, the name given to persistent symptoms.
Around 85% of the UK’s eligible population – people over the age of 12 – are fully vaccinated with two doses in Britain, according to official data, while two-thirds have received a booster shot.
However, Devi Sridhar, Professor and Chair of Global Public Health at the University of Edinburgh Medical School, told Sky News on Thursday that the UK government’s decision on isolation laws would not come as a ‘good surprise’ to most people.
“Isolation is preventing someone who is contagious from passing [the virus] to someone else,” she said. “It’s, I think, too early right now… We have a system where if you test negative after day five [and] on the sixth day you can get out of isolation. I don’t know why you would change that when we still have over 200 deaths a day.”
Johnson’s management is under pressure after an official investigation found he and various government departments repeatedly broke Covid rules by hosting and attending parties during coronavirus lockdowns. Johnson has rejected calls for his resignation, some of which have come from lawmakers in his own Conservative party.
Sridhar told Sky on Thursday that she believed the government’s plans to revoke isolation requirements in the UK were more politically motivated than based on scientific evidence.
“If you look at the timing, it’s clearly to grab the headlines and distract from the issues facing the prime minister,” she said. “We now have a shift in dialogue towards a discussion about ending the pandemic because there is a need to create a diversion.”
Christina Pagel, director of the Clinical Operations Research Unit at University College London, agreed that the UK Government’s plans to scrap isolation rules were “not based on science”.
“Abandoning isolation makes work and socializing more risky and callbacks go down, Covid continues to evolve and it’s harder to know local case levels,” she said. said in a tweet Wednesday. “Fundamentally, [the government] predicts that we will all catch Covid multiple times – like a cold, but with a much more dangerous disease. »
In a poll of 4,451 British adults by YouGov on Wednesday, 75% of respondents said they thought isolation rules should remain in place for the time being. Almost half said people should still be legally required to self-isolate after testing positive for Covid, while more than a quarter said the isolation law should remain in place for the next few months .
Just 17% of people who took part in the survey said people in the UK should no longer be legally required to self-isolate after testing positive for the virus.
On February 1, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said most parts of the world were experiencing a “very worrying increase in deaths” from Covid, thanks to the highly transmissible omicron variant.
“More transmission means more deaths,” he told a news conference. “We are not calling on any country to return to a so-called lockdown. But we are calling on all countries to protect their people using all the tools in the toolbox – not just vaccines.”
“It is premature for any country to surrender or declare victory,” Tedros added.