As less-lethal Omicron surges, Europeans ease restrictions

MADRID/KAYUNGA, Uganda, Jan 10 (Reuters) – European governments are relaxing COVID-19 rules to keep hospitals, schools and emergency services going as the much more contagious but less lethal Omicron variant changes their approach to the pandemic.

Even though a record surge in infections has 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”. read more

The mass return of children to school after the 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. read more

In Uganda, students returned to institutions shut nearly two years ago. The lockout helped to control the pandemic – with only 3,300 deaths recorded – but the government estimates about a third of pupils will never return.

“We faced temptations,” said 16-year-old Rachael Nalwanga, happily returning to classes while many of her former schoolmates worked in new jobs or cared for new babies. “It has not been easy for me to keep safe at home for this long but I thank God,” she told Reuters in the town of Kayunga. read more

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 CRISES

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 last April 2021, although the total number, at 22,749 was still around two-thirds of the peak, set 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. read more

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.

Source: Reuters