Acrylic screens used as part of measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 are installed at the Jazz Lounge Encounter, a night club in Tokyo, Japan.
Many countries hard-hit by the coronavirus are easing their strict and often unpopular measures to fight COVID-19.
Night clubs and movie theaters are reopening. People are no longer wearing face coverings, or masks, in public, especially in Europe and North America.
Slowly, many countries are easing their COVID-19 restrictions, as officials hope the Omicron wave has passed its peak.
The highly contagious Omicron variant has resulted in at least 90 million cases worldwide over the past 10 weeks. That is more than all cases in 2020, the pandemic’s first year.
But the World Health Organization (WHO) this week said some countries can now consider easing the rules. They can do so if they have high vaccination rates, their health care systems are strong and cases are not trending in the wrong direction.
Restrictions are being lifted in many European countries, for many months the world's center of the pandemic. Restrictions are being lifted in South Africa — where Omicron was first announced publicly — and the United States. In Britain and the U.S., like South Africa before them, Omicron cases greatly increased at first but are now coming down quickly.
In the U.S., local leaders have had many different responses. The city of Denver announced plans to end its mask rules for businesses and public spaces, while keeping them for schools and public transportation. A move to ease a mask mandate in New York state, where cases have fallen, is in the courts.
England, France, Ireland, the Netherlands and several Nordic countries have taken steps to end or ease their restrictions. In some places, like Norway and Denmark, the easing comes even though case counts are still near their highs. Some governments are simply hoping that the pandemic is slowing.
Last week, England ended almost all restrictions. Masks are not required in public and vaccines are no longer needed to get into public spaces. The work-from-home order has also been lifted. However, those who test positive still have to isolate.
On Tuesday, Norway lifted its ban on serving alcohol after 11 p.m. and the limit on private gatherings of no more than 10 people.
“Now it’s time for us to take back our everyday life,” Norway's Health Minister said Tuesday.
More than 370 million cases and over 5.6 million deaths linked to COVID-19 have been reported worldwide. But the spread of the Omicron variant is beginning to slow in many places. It is giving rise to the hope that the pandemic is about to enter a new stage in which the virus, like the flu, is endemic but manageable.
Omicron has shown to be less likely to cause severe illness than the Delta variant. But experts are still warning about the possibility of a new, more dangerous variant.
Tedros Adhanom Gheybreysus is the head of WHO. He 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.
Other continents are continuing to be very careful. Some of the world’s highest vaccination rates are in Asia. And its leaders are keeping their strict lockdown measures or making them even more restrictive.
Just days ahead of the Beijing Winter Olympics, China is holding on to its zero-COVID policy. It imposes strict lockdowns and quarantines quickly when any cases are found. There are also mask mandates for public transportation, and people must prove they are COVID-free to enter most restaurants and stores.
South Africa this week announced that it has moved past the Omicron wave. Studies show immunity in the country is between 60 and 80 percent. Masks are still required, but schools will reopen fully for the first time since March 2020.
Atiya Mosam is with the Public Health Association of South Africa. She said such steps are part of recognizing “how transmission occurs, while basically balancing people’s need to live their lives.”
Words in This Story
strict — adj. used to describe a command, rule, etc., that must be obeyed
variant — adj. different in some way from others of the same kind
trend —n. a general direction of change : a way of behaving, proceeding, etc., that is developing and becoming more common
mandate — n. an official order to do something
isolate — v. to put or keep in a place or situation that is separate from others
endemic — adj. growing or existing in a certain place or region
quarantine — n. the period of time during which a person or animal that has a disease or that might have a disease is kept away from others to prevent the disease from spreading
transmission — n. the act or process by which something is spread or passed from one person or thing to another