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European countries tend to loosen COVID-19 restrictions despite raging Omicron, WHO warning

25 January 2022 21:45

LISBON. KAZINFORM - Though Europe is confronted with a rapid spread of the Omicron variant and surging COVID-19 infections, many European countries tend to relax their pandemic control measures to release social mobility, Xinhua reports.

Though mentioning «hope for stabilization» this year, Hans Kluge, the World Health Organization (WHO) regional director for Europe, warned that the pandemic is «far from over,» and it is still too early to relax.

Omicron is spreading at an «unprecedented speed,» he said, adding that as predicted, the majority of people in need of intensive care across the region are unvaccinated.

«If 2021 was the year of vaccine production, 2022 should be the year of vaccine equity in the European region and beyond. Many people who need the vaccine remain unvaccinated,» said the WHO official, cautioning that it would drive COVID-19 transmission, prolong the pandemic and increase the likelihood of new variants.

Relaxation Despite More Infections

Despite a rising number of infections and a vaccination rate below the European Union (EU) average, Poland has shortened COVID-19 quarantine time from ten to seven days.

Polish Health Minister Adam Niedzielski said that his country is preparing to face the fifth pandemic wave driven by Omicron, with «a very dynamic increase in medical referrals.»

In the Netherlands, even as new COVID-19 infections reached record highs in recent days, there have been growing calls to ease restrictions on restaurants and cultural venues.

According to the Dutch restaurant and hospitality industry, restricting the sector will not achieve the goal of subduing the pandemic, but will make it increasingly difficult for restaurants and bars to sustain.

More than 50,000 protesters in Brussels rallied against the restrictions imposed by the local government to contain COVID-19. Local police have cracked down on the demonstration with water cannons and tear gas over the weekend.

Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo declared that the country «will never accept blind violence, let alone against our law enforcement agencies,» according to the Belgian news agency Belga.

In Croatia, a referendum with popular signatures calls for abolishing the immunization certificate against COVID-19.

According to the proponents, the aim is to abolish discriminatory illogical confirmations of vaccination, as well as to stop citizens from being harassed and the country's healthcare system from overloading.

In Serbia, the peak of COVID-19 contagion, which occurred after New Year holidays, appears to slowly subside amid vaccination and immunity from the virus.

Virologist Milanko Sekler told Serbian public broadcaster RTS that the country has come «two-thirds of the way» towards the end of the epidemic, estimating that despite a high number of infections, the situation is moving in a positive direction.

Tightening Until Cases Fall

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz spoke out against the loosening of pandemic control measures, as COVID-19 infections in Germany continue to rise and have reached a new record this week.

«It is certainly not appropriate to relax the rules in general in the midst of the Omicron wave. We don't need a course correction,» Scholz said.

In Italy, the number of daily COVID-19 cases has been falling for six consecutive days as the country's health authorities beefed up their anti-virus measures in recent weeks, in an effort to contain the spread of the Omicron variant.

«As the World Health Organization also noted, we are approaching the peak of infections. After that, we will have to adjust our rules and our model to the new phase of the pandemic we are facing,» said Health Minister Roberto Speranza.

French Prime Minister Jean Castex announced that his government will ease certain restrictions related to COVID-19 in February, but only for those who are fully vaccinated.

«The fifth wave with the Omicron variant is not over and its impact on the healthcare system will remain high but partially manageable until mid-March,» he said.

«The Omicron wave is currently receding in the UK, with the number of cases dropping sharply in recent days and hospitalizations now following suit. The situation provides a case for lifting restrictions,» said Francois Balloux, a professor of computational systems biology and director of the Genetics Institute at University College London.

However, the expert stressed that health care should remain to avoid a rapid return to pre-pandemic behaviors, which can «lead to viral outbreaks to extremely high levels of infection» in Britain.

Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), one of the poorest countries in Europe, has been struggling to mitigate the pandemic's impacts on local economy, as the country has recently registered a record daily case number.