Europe is accelerating steps to roll back COVID restrictions as efforts to control the spread of the virus have failed and countries downgrade the threat posed by SARS-CoV-2.
Sweden and Switzerland joined Denmark, Norway, Finland, Ireland, The Netherlands, Italy, Lithuania, France and the UK in announcing they will lift COVID restrictions and open up their countries.
Top Israeli officials also announced this week they are abolishing the country’s “Green Pass” COVID vaccine passport for restaurants, hotels, gyms and theaters.
The policy update will take effect Feb. 6, Prime Minister Naftali Bennet’s government said, pending approval by a parliamentary committee. Israel’s proof-of-vaccination policy will remain in effect for events such as parties or weddings.
“To continue the green pass in the same way can create false assurances,” said Nadav Davidovitch, an epidemiologist and public health physician advising Prime Minister Naftali Bennet’s government. “It’s not reducing infections in closed spaces like theatres. It needs to be used mainly for high-risk places like hospitals, elderly care homes, or events when you are eating and singing and dancing.”
Sweden will lift all COVID restrictions by Feb. 9, the Swedish government said today.
According to Politico, the Swedish Public Health Agency said it reassessed COVID as “not being socially critical” due to a better understanding of the Omicron variant, which is milder and associated with fewer hospitalizations.
“It’s time to open up Sweden,” said Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson. “The pandemic isn’t over, but it is moving into a new phase.”
The decision to open Sweden came a day after Switzerland, citing high immunity levels and the milder Omicron variant, announced it will abolish mandatory work-from-home and the quarantine rules beginning today.
The government also will lift health measures at the borders and tourists will no longer need to receive Swiss COVID certificates.
The Swiss government said it planned to phase out other restrictions after consulting with 26 cantons, employers, trade unions and parliamentary committees.
In two weeks, the government will determine the next steps to relax pandemic measures depending on the health situation, according to an official statement.
Options include a staggered exit strategy or an abrupt end to all COVID measures on Feb. 17.
Denmark to classify COVID as endemic disease
Just days before Sweden and Switzerland’s announcements, Denmark became the first country in the European Union to lift all COVID restrictions, reclassifying COVID as an endemic disease.
Danish Health Minister Magnus Heunicke on Feb. 1 wrote a letter to the parliament’s epidemiology committee stating COVID was no longer a “socially critical disease.”
Based on the recommendations of the committee, the government decided to scrap COVID restrictions.
The “rules will lapse when the illness will no longer be categorized as ‘socially critical’ on 1 February 2022,” Heunicke wrote.
The classification of a disease as “socially critical” gave the government authority to implement broad restrictive measures such as shutting businesses and making mask-wearing mandatory.
An endemic disease circulates freely but is recognized as posing less of a threat to societies.
“No one can know what will happen next December,” Heunicke told CNN on Monday. “But we promised the citizens of Denmark that we will only have restrictions if they are truly necessary and we’ll lift them as soon as we can. That’s what’s happening right now.”
When asked about vaccine mandates, Heunicke said:
“Luckily we don’t need that in Denmark … I’m really happy that we don’t need it because it’s a very troubling path to move that way.”
Søren Brostrøm, director-general of Denmark’s Health Authority agreed:
“I do not believe in imposed vaccine mandates. It’s a pharmaceutical intervention with possible side effects. You need as an authority, to recognize that. I think if you push too much, you will have a reaction — action generates reaction, especially with vaccines.”
Danish authorities will still recommend taking at-home tests when coming into contact with large groups of people and will make PCR tests available to the public. Travelers entering the country will still be tested upon entry.
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