Europe and the US are easing up pandemic restrictions - but some countries keep their mandates in place
Many countries in Europe, including the UK, Spain, Denmark, Sweden, Greece and Norway are dropping restrictions, or at least lifting large aspects of the pandemic restrictions due to high vaccination rates, and the inability to stop the spread of the Omicron variant of Covid-19.
CTIF.org will follow up on what the easing of restrictions will mean for Europe, and especially how it will effect firefighters and other first responders in our member countries.
In England face masks will no longer be mandatory in public places and schools and COVID-19 passports will be dropped for large events as infections have dropped in large parts of the country, according to a January 19th article in CTV News, where British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was interviewed.
Especially due to the highly contagious Omicron variant, countries like Sweden, Norway, Greece, the Netherlands, Czechia among others, are now removing testing requirements and are adopting a relaxed attitude towards Covid-19.
In some countries, pandemic restrictions have been completely lifted.
Denmark was the first country to declare the end of the pandemic, stating that Covid-19 no longer is an illness dangerous to society, but has instead become classified as a virus endemic to the population, similar to the seasonal flu. Since then, Sweden has followed.
Large players outside of Europe to lift restrictions - but Asia holds back
Internationally, restrictions are also being lifted in many places. Restrictions are being lifted in South Africa — where Omicron was first announced publicly — and the United States.
In Canada, many provinces are easing restrictions, even through federal government mandates still stand, despite widespread demonstrations throughout Canada.
Other continents are continuing to be very careful. Some of the world’s highest vaccination rates are in Asia. Their leaders are keeping their strict lockdown measures or making them even more restrictive.
In Europe, one of the largest country of Germany is choosing to keep many of their restrictions, including the controversial Vaccine passport mandates, which demand citizens to be able to show proof of vaccine in or to enter public places and hold certain types of jobs.
During most of January, protests against the policies of vaccine mandates have been raging in cities throughout Germany. Austria, who is also keeping their mandates for now, have also experienced demonstrations.
Austria has taken one of the more severe stands in Europe for vaccine mandates. The country have added legislation to make it mandatory for citizens to be fully vaccinated.
Australia still in lockdown - but opens border to vaccinated travellers
According to a February 7th BBC-article, Australia has announced the reopening of its borders on February 21 to vaccinated tourists and other visa holders - for the first time in almost two years.
"If you're double vaccinated, we look forward to welcoming you back," Prime Minister Scott Morrison said.
Australia has had some of the world's strictest border controls throughout the coronavirus pandemic.
In March 2020, the government closed the borders. It barred most foreigners from entering the country and put caps on total arrivals to help combat Covid.
From the most severe to the least restrictive
In contrast: Sweden was the one european country which maintained the least restrictive pandemic measures throughout the pandemic. Although the country never went into lockdown or mandated masks in public places, case counts and deaths per capita were not higher than some of the worst hit countries in Europe who had severe restrictions in place. Sweden´s official Covid numbers were, however, much higher than the surrounding Nordic countries who had stricter restrictions in place.
Medical expertize divided on easing restrictions
Medical experts around the world have been divided when it comes to the safety of lifting all restrictions as early as February.
However, many governments have stated that pandemic restrictions no longer make economic sense considering that the highly contagious Omicron variant allegedly is breaking through all or most measures regardless of restrictions.
A high degree of vaccination and a decline in patients treated in ICU for severe Covid-19, have also been reasons cited by government officials as a major reason for easing restrictions.
The head of WHO, Tedros Adhanom Gheybreysus, said Tuesday that he is concerned that people think preventing the spread is no longer possible or necessary.
“Nothing could be further from the truth,” he said.
WHO official Michael Ryan warned that political pressure could lead some countries to open back up too soon.
Schengen opens up
After allegedly evaluating that the COVID-19 restrictions are not able to currently halt the spread of the virus, several European Union/Schengen Area countries have announced that they will now apply less stringent rules, according to a report from SchengenVisaInfo.com.
The Swedish authorities announced that starting from February 9, travellers from the EU/Schengen Area will be able to enter the country restriction-free, regardless of their vaccination or recovery status.
Norway has also eased its entry rules. The Norwegian authorities announced earlier in January that the quarantine requirement would be removed as this measure “is no longer considered necessary for infection control.”
Travellers can now enter Norway without being subject to self-isolation rules even if they have not been vaccinated or recovered from the virus.
Nonetheless, it has been emphasised that unvaccinated and unrecovered travellers still need to get tested and complete the entry form before their arrival in Norway.
Greece has only abolished its COVID-19 testing requirement for travellers who hold a valid EU COVID Certificate.
The decision was announced by the Greek government and means that all those who hold one of the certificates recognised in Greece are no longer required to undergo pre-entry testing.
On the other hand, travellers who do not meet the entry criteria will continue to be subject to the testing requirement, even if they have been vaccinated or recovered from the virus.
Czechia will also apply eased rules for travellers as well as for the citizens of the country. The Prime Minister of Czechia, Petr Fiala, said last week that starting from February 9 the requirement to present one of the passes would be dropped.
This means that all persons are now able to enter restaurants, bars, cultural events, and other facilities without having to present a valid or vaccination certificate.
As for the remaining restrictions, Czechia plans on removing them during the second half of this month.
While other countries were still evaluating the COVID-19 situation, Denmark lifted all of its COVID-19 restrictions earlier this month, thus becoming the first country to do so.
Other countries, such as France, Portugal, and Switzerland, are still to make an official statement regarding their announcements on COVID-19 rules.
France is soon to remove the testing requirement. The Secretary of State for European Affairs, Clément Beaune, said that the country’s authorities are expected to announce the lifting of the pre-entry testing rule during the upcoming days.
The Portuguese authorities have also confirmed that the country will lift the testing requirement for fully vaccinated travellers.
Switzerland also plans to relax its rules by dropping the requirement for tourists to obtain a Swiss pass. Last week, the Swiss authorities announced that travellers who enter the country for travel or any other purposes might no longer be required to convert their passes into the Swiss equivalent one.