Covid-19 and Omicron Variant News: Live Updates
Nightclubs in Denmark are reopening. Norway is dropping its coronavirus testing requirements for fully vaccinated travelers to enter the country. France ends its external mask mandate. Unvaccinated Austrians are no longer confined to their homes.
Pandemic protocols are being relaxed in several European countries as public support for them has waned and shifted 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” on Sunday. “We have to learn to live with that.
The Danish government has said it no longer considers Covid a “socially critical disease”. And the restrictions eased in Norway are among the broadest in the world to date. There is no longer a limit to the number of people who can gather at events, both indoors and outdoors. In cinemas, churches, kindergartens and primary schools, social distancing rules have disappeared. Restaurants can 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.
Since Tuesday, Norway has also exempted fully vaccinated travelers entering the country from Covid-19 testing requirements, becoming one of the first countries to overturn a rule that has been a fixture of international travel since the start of the pandemic. (Those who are not fully vaccinated must provide proof of a negative test taken less than 24 hours before entry and should get tested at border crossings.) Additionally, people infected with the virus but showing no symptoms have to self-isolate for only four days.
And on Wednesday, France and Switzerland decided to lift Covid restrictions, with France easing outdoor mask mandates and capacity limits for concert halls, stadiums and other events, and Switzerland announces changes to remote work and quarantine mandates effective Thursday. Finland and England are also expected to phase out Covid restrictions this month.
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.”
Yet, as in Europe, some countries in Asia have reduced restrictions, including reducing or even reducing quarantine times altogether. Thailand resumed quarantine-free entry for fully vaccinated foreign travelers on Tuesday after a five-week suspension. After two years, the Philippines will reopen to tourists from most countries on February 10; fully vaccinated travelers will no longer need to quarantine in a government facility. Effective February 5, Hong Kong’s quarantine period for international travelers will be reduced to 14 days from 21. South Korea has reduced the quarantine period for inbound international travelers to seven days from 10.
Malaysia has reduced the mandatory quarantine for arriving travelers who received reminders to five days from seven on January 24. And Indonesia will open the tourist island of Bali to all international travelers on Friday.
In the United States, indoor mask mandates recently expired in several cities, including Denver, Hartford, Baltimore and San Francisco. New York State’s mask mandate 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, Dr. Seema Lakdawala, a respiratory virus expert at the University of Pittsburgh, had estimated that the masks could come off by February. Now, she said, she’s surprised more states haven’t implemented 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 downward.
The daily average of cases in the United States has fallen to around 424,000, down rapidly but still well above any other period, according to a New York Times database. Nationally, an average of about 140,000 patients with the virus are hospitalized, down from the previous two weeks but more than in any previous surge. Daily deaths are above 2,600, below last winter’s peak levels but rising.