Multiple countries across Europe have started to relax COVID-19 rules and restrictions in an effort to keep the economy afloat, despite increasingly high levels of cases, driven by the Omicron variant.
On Thursday, England lifted multiple restrictions including mandatory facemasks in enclosed places and vaccine passports that were previously required to enter nightclubs and large events, although organizations can still choose to use the NHS COVID pass if they wish to do so.
People are also no longer advised to work from home in the country and from Jan. 31, the limit on the number of visitors allowed into care homes will also be removed.
These “Plan B” measures were put in place in December after Omicron cases were found in the country.
Meanwhile, incoming visitors flying into the county who are vaccinated will no longer have to undergo testing or isolation, while unvaccinated arrivals only have to take pre-departure and post-departure tests, but are also not required to isolate unless they test positive for the virus.
Elsewhere in the Netherlands, which has been under a hard lockdown since mid-December, the Dutch government also announced it will start lifting restrictions to allow the hospitality industry to again welcome back customers.
“As of Jan. 26, most locations in our country can once again be open, under certain conditions,” officials said in guidance explaining the easing of reactions. “This means that restaurants and bars, cinemas, theatres, music venues, museums, zoos, and amusement parks can reopen.”
From Wednesday, the Dutch hospitality industry is allowed to welcome back customers, though only with a reduced capacity and social distancing rules in place and between the hours of 5 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Customers will still have to present a COVID-19 vaccine passport to enter the premises and face masks are still mandatory for everyone aged 13 and over on public transport and public indoor spaces such as shops, museums, and cinemas.
People are also still advised to work from home and are allowed no more than 4 visitors aged 13 and over into their homes each day.
Meanwhile, the Danish government on Wednesday announced that it has “decided that COVID-19 should no longer be categorized as a socially critical disease after 31 January 2022” and will be lifting virtually all of the restrictions it put in place to prevent the spread of the disease, except for testing on arrival from abroad.
Belgium last week announced a slight easing of its restrictions from Jan. 28 despite record infections, while France’s Prime Minister Jean Castex and health minister Olivier Véran have set out a timetable for a gradual lifting of restrictions within the country in the coming weeks.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez also told reporters on Jan. 10 that he wants the European Union to consider approaching COVID-19 in the same way it approaches flu.
The move by the string of European countries comes after World Health Organization on Monday suggested that Europe will experience a “quiet” COVID-19 period before the virus returns toward the end of the year but this time without a full-blown pandemic.
WHO Regional Director of Europe, Hans Kluge, told Agence France-Presse that the highly infectious Omicron variant of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, which causes COVID-19, could infect 60 percent of Europeans by March before easing for some time due to global immunity.
But once those case numbers across Europe subside, Kluge said he expects that “there will be for quite some weeks and months a global immunity, either thanks to the vaccine or because people have immunity due to the infection, and also lowering seasonality.”
“So we anticipate that there will be a quiet period before COVID-19 may come back towards the end of the year, but not necessarily the pandemic coming back,” he said.
However, the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) earlier this month warned Europe to brace for more cases to emerge in the coming weeks, driven by the Omicron variant, which it said could put further strain on current essential worker shortages, such as health care employees, and create potential difficulties with testing and contact tracing capacities in many EU member states.
The EU health agency says that the overall level of risk to public health is “very high” as Omicron cases continue to sweep throughout Europe.
There have been at least 120,294,000 reported infections and 1,954,000 reported deaths caused by COVID-19 in Europe so far, according to a Reuters COVID-19 tracker.