Some European countries are making new policies to deal with COVID-19 as a usual, infectious disease, similar to the flu, and not as a public health crisis.
At the beginning of the pandemic, Spain, for example, ordered people to stay at home for more than three months. People including children were not permitted to go outside, even for exercise. The economy sharply slowed.
Officials said the measures prevented a collapse of the health care system. But last year, Spain’s Supreme Court ruled that the draconian measures were not constitutional.
Now, Spain is planning to employ a different policy. The country has one of Europe’s highest vaccination rates, but also is suffering economic weakness. The government is planning to deal with the next increase in infections not as an emergency but as a normal infectious disease.
Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez wants the European Union to consider similar changes.
The goal is to move away from using crisis measures and toward treating the new coronavirus in the way that many countries deal with the flu and measles.
Other European countries including Britain and Portugal are planning similar action.
Britain lifts measures
In Britain, Prime Minister Boris Johnson told Parliament Wednesday that the infectious Omicron version of the new coronavirus “has peaked nationally.”
Johnson said beginning on January 27, many COVID-19 measures would end. These include required vaccination proof to attend public events. The country will also end its requirement that face coverings, or masks, be worn in public. As of Thursday, British secondary schools no longer require mask use.
“We will trust the judgement of the British people and no longer criminalize anyone who chooses not to wear one,” Johnson said.
Last month, British officials renewed strong restrictive measures to slow the spread of the Omicron version of the virus.
Johnson noted that more than 90 percent of those over the age of 60 in Britain have had a third additional, or booster, vaccination against the virus.
COVID-19 as ‘endemic’
Portugal has one of the world’s highest vaccination rates. On New Year’s Day, President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa said the country had “moved into the endemic phase” of the pandemic. Endemic means a disease will continue to exist in some areas for years to come. The president was speaking about easing crisis-level restrictions.
The number of Omicron infections has again gone up. But the number of people admitted to the hospital and deaths among vaccinated people in Europe are much lower than at earlier times in the pandemic.
In some places, the idea of returning to normal life can conflict with efforts to get more people vaccinated. In Germany, for example, 73 percent of people have been fully vaccinated. Health Ministry spokesman Andreas Deffner said Monday that, “We still have too many unvaccinated people,” especially noting older citizens.
Over 80 percent of Spain’s population has received two vaccination shots. Health officials are placing their attention on booster shots for adults.
Dr. Salvador Trenche is head of the Spanish Society of Family and Community Medicine. It has called on policies that treat the virus as endemic. He said widespread vaccination and infection mean efforts can be placed on prevention, testing and watching moderate- to high-risk groups. COVID-19 “must be treated like the rest of illnesses,” he told the Associated Press.
The plan has been called the “flu-ization” of COVID-19 by the Spanish media.
For now, some observers say the discussion about how to deal with endemic COVID-19 is limited to rich countries. They have used vaccines and public health systems to deal with the severest effects of the pandemic. And it is unclear how the endemic-linked policies will coexist with the so-called “zero-COVID” policies in several Asian nations, including China.
China has put in place very strong measures to protect the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics from the virus that was first identified in Wuhan.
A special area has been set up in the city for thousands of international visitors. Neither the visitors nor the competitors will be permitted to leave the area until they go home.
I’m Mario Ritter, Jr.
Aritz Parra reported this story for the Associated Press. Mario Ritter Jr. adapted it for VOA Learning English with additional AP stories. ____________________________________________
Words in This Story
draconian –adj. very severe or cruel
expire –v. to end : to no longer be valid after a period of time
peak –v. to reach the highest level or point
approach –n. a way of dealing with something; a way of doing or thinking about something
illness –n. sickness; disease
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