TECH Europe eases COVID-19 curbs despite Omicron surges


Europe eases COVID-19 curbs despite Omicron surges


13:36, January 11, 2022

Students in a classroom as they resume classes while COVID-19 cases surge across the country and with new rules in place as part of the government's efforts to maintain in-person learning, Rome, Italy, January 10, 2022. (Photo: Reuters)

European governments are relaxing COVID-19 curbs in the face of much more contagious but seemingly less lethal coronavirus variant Omicron.

Even though infections are yet to peak in Europe, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said the time was right to start evaluating the disease's evolution "with different parameters."

The mass return of children to school after Christmas holidays is evidence that few wish to see a return to the online-only learning that marked some of the early waves of infection.

Even as France registered a record seven-day average of almost 270,000 cases a day, it eased testing protocols for schoolchildren, saying too many classes were closed.

Governments in Europe also imposed severe lockdowns in the first phases of the pandemic – with enormous damage to economies – but now want to avoid that, knowing that Omicron is putting far fewer people in hospital, not least because many or most are vaccinated.

Staffing crisis

They are also suffering immediate staff shortages in essential services as Omicron drives a surge in positive tests.

In France, the number of people in hospital with COVID-19 rose by 767, the biggest increase since April 2021, although the total number 22,749 was still around two-third of the peak in November 2020.

Britain began using military personnel to support healthcare and alerted its biggest private health company that it might be required to deliver treatments including cancer surgery.

Spain was bringing back retired medics. In Italy, the challenge of nearly 13,000 health workers being absent with positive COVID-19 tests was compounded by suspensions for non-vaccination.

Britain, Switzerland, Spain and Belgium have all slashed quarantine periods and eased conditions for staff to return to work.

The Czech Republic followed suit on Monday, saying critical staff including teachers, social workers and doctors could keep working even after testing positive.

Since before Christmas, Spain has let staff return to work without taking a test. The health ministry has also set a viral load threshold below which an infected person who takes a PCR test can be considered non-infectious and thus fit to work, enabling medics, social workers and some policemen to report for duty even if they test positive.

As school classes resumed in Spain, Italy, Portugal, the Netherlands and parts of Germany, youngsters faced an array of measures, from masks and fans in classrooms to parents not being allowed past the gates and the prospect of a return to home learning if case numbers exceeded certain limits.

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