Nightclubs in Denmark are reopening and the government no longer considers Covid a ‘socially critical disease’. Norway is dropping its coronavirus testing requirements for fully vaccinated travelers. France ends its external mask mandate. Unvaccinated Austrians are no longer confined to their homes.
In several European countries, pandemic protocols are being relaxed as public support for them has waned and the approach is shifting instead to treating the virus as endemic or a manageable part of life. Now parts of the United States, where the Omicron wave peaked, are heading in that direction, with several state leaders saying it’s time to be realistic about pandemic fatigue.
“We’re not going to run this from scratch,” Governor Philip D. Murphy of New Jersey, a Democrat, said on NBC News’ “Meet the Press” program on Sunday. “We have to learn to live with that,” he said.
Norway’s easing of restrictions is perhaps the most drastic. There is no longer a limit to the number of people who can gather at events, whether indoors or outdoors. In cinemas, churches and elementary schools, social distancing rules have disappeared. Restaurants can again serve drinks after 11 p.m. Colleges and universities are urged to strive to provide comprehensive in-person instruction. And working from home is no longer necessary.
As of Tuesday, fully vaccinated travelers entering Norway are exempt from testing requirements, relaxing a rule that has been a fixture of international travel since the start of the pandemic. (Travelers who are not fully vaccinated still face testing requirements.) Norway has also shortened its minimum isolation period to four days for people who test positive but have no symptoms.
Also on Wednesday:
France relaxation of outdoor mask rules and capacity limits for concert halls, stadiums and other events.
Switzerland said it would relax its remote working and quarantine edicts, effective Thursday.
The Prime Minister of Czech Republic said the country would end its testing requirements for schools and workplaces on February 18.
Finland said earlier in the week that it intended to lift all of its restrictions this month, and England is also expected to lift restrictions soon.
Several Asian governments are set to ease rules for arriving international travellers:
Tuesday, Thailand resumed allowing fully vaccinated travelers to enter the country without quarantine, after a five-week suspension.
the Philippines said it would reopen to tourists from most countries on February 10 and no longer require fully vaccinated travelers to quarantine in a government facility.
hong kong reduced its quarantine period for international travelers to 14 days, from 21, starting on Saturday.
Indonesia will open the tourist island of Bali to all international travelers on Friday.
But public health officials at the World Health Organization have urged caution about easing restrictions too hastily. Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the WHO, told a press conference on Tuesday that it was “premature for a country to surrender or declare victory” over the virus.
“We are concerned that a narrative has spread in some countries that due to vaccines, and due to the high transmissibility and low severity of Omicron, prevention of transmission is not possible and no longer necessary,” said Dr Tedros. “Nothing could be further from the truth.”
In the United States, indoor mask mandates recently expired in several cities, including Denver, Hartford and San Francisco. New York State’s mask requirement is in effect until Feb. 10 and it’s unclear if it will be extended; Governor Kathy Hochul said no decision has been made.
Before Omicron arrived, Seema Lakdawala, a respiratory virus expert at the University of Pittsburgh, estimated that the masks could come off by February. Now, she said, she’s surprised more states haven’t implemented new mask mandates.
“I’m not sure there is anywhere where there is a sufficient decrease in cases, at least in the United States, to justify removing mask mandates,” Dr Lakdawala said, adding that she had “hope we’ve turned a corner”, but wanted to see more weeks of the virus trending down.
The United States recently averaged around 424,000 new cases per day, a declining figure but remains far higher than during any previous surge in the pandemic, according to a New York Times database. Nationwide, around 140,000 patients are hospitalized with the virus, another figure that remains higher than in any previous surge. The country is averaging more than 2,600 deaths a day, less than last winter’s peak, but still rising.
An earlier version of this report incorrectly included Baltimore in a group of cities where indoor mask mandates have ended. A mask mandate ended in Baltimore County, not Baltimore City.