In England, people won’t have to wear masks in public or show proof that they’ve been vaccinated to enter some venues, beginning on Jan. 27, according to UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
“Because of the extraordinary booster campaign, together with the way the public have responded to the Plan B measures, we can return to Plan A in England and allow Plan B regulations to expire as a result from the start of Thursday next week,” Johnson said last week.
He cited data suggesting the Omicron variant surge has “now peaked nationally.”
“And having looked at the data carefully, the Cabinet concluded that once regulations lapse, the government will no longer mandate the wearing of face masks anywhere,” Johnson said.
In nearby Ireland, nearly all COVID-19 rules expired on Saturday, including capacity limits for outdoor and indoor events. Early closing times and some so-called social distancing measures have also been ended.
“Spring is coming and I don’t know if I have ever looked forward to one as much as this one. Humans are social beings and we Irish are more social than most. As we look forward to this spring, we need to see each other again, we need to see each other smile, we need to sing again,” said Micheal Martin, Ireland’s prime minister.
French Prime Minister Jean Castex last week said the country will start to roll back restrictions within weeks, asserting that France’s COVID-19 case numbers and hospitalizations have improved.
“This exceptional wave is not over, but the situation is starting to evolve more favorably,” Castex said on Jan. 20. However, he tied the easing of restrictions with France’s new COVID-19 vaccine passport that will take effect on Jan. 24, which some critics have described as draconian and has drawn mass protests in recent days.
Castex and other French officials said that the vaccine passport system may be eliminated if the COVID-19 situation in the country continues to improve. That would depend on how many people are hospitalized, Health Minister Olivier Véran said on Jan. 20.
“We are a bit more confident in saying we can relax some of these constraints and let people return to life as normal as possible,” Véran said, according to France24.
Outdoor mask mandates, audience capacity limits at some venues, and working from home won’t be required as of Feb. 2, French officials said. Nightclubs will also be permitted to reopen in mid-February.
On Jan. 20, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez told reporters that the European Union should approach COVID-19 in the same manner that it approaches influenza, as frequent studies and data have shown the Omicron variant is far less virulent than previous variants.
“What we are saying is that in the next few months and years, we are going to have to think, without hesitancy and according to what science tells us, how to manage the pandemic with different parameters,” he said on Jan. 17, according to The Associated Press.
Meanwhile, Germany and Austria appear to be forging ahead with plans to make COVID-19 vaccines mandatory for everyone who is eligible in the coming weeks. Austrian rules stipulate massive fines of thousands of euros and other penalties for those who won’t comply.
But the nearby Czech Republic has abandoned plans to make the shot compulsory, following widespread protests in Prague and other cities, according to the office of new Prime Minister Petr Fiala.
“We’ve agreed that vaccination against COVID-19 won’t be mandatory,” Fiala said during remarks last week. “This does not change our stance on vaccination. It is still undoubtedly the best way to fight COVID-19. … However, we do not want to deepen fissures in society.”