POSTSCRIPT / February 8, 2022 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Covid variants deaf to cry for normalcy

A  growing number of nations in Europe, Africa and the Americas are pushing to transition to a post-pandemic near-normal status, taking steps to relax restrictions even as the coronavirus and its variants remain deaf to their cry to “take life back”.

We take “near-normal” to mean a slide of the COVID-19 pandemic to a more manageable area-specific endemic infection that can be treated as easily as the seasonal flu (influenza or trancazo).

When will life return to normal after the pandemic? (Photo: The STAR / Edd Gumban)

Among the countries with high vaccination rates that are now easing such restrictions as masking and distancing in restaurants, clubs, theaters and similar crowded places are England, France, Ireland, the Netherlands, and several Nordic nations.

In the United States, new infections have gone down from an average of over 800,000 a day 2-1/2 weeks ago to 430,000 this week. But the US still tops the chart with more than 78,017,500 total cases and over 926,030 deaths.

There is a felt desire among Americans to relax the tough and often unpopular rules and to achieve a semblance of normalcy of life and commerce, but local leaders show no unanimity in their responses.

New York averages 4,200 cases a day, compared with 41,000 in the first week of January, but Gov. Kathy Hochul is waiting till next week to decide what to do with masking. In California, masks must be worn until Feb. 15 in all indoor public settings, irrespective of vaccine status.

Denver City in Colorado is lifting a requirement for proof of vaccination and masking for businesses and public spaces, but keeping them in schools and on public transportation.

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The global picture still looks grim. As of Sunday (Feb. 6), at 22:10 GMT, the consolidated COVID-19 data of world0meters.info showed a grand total of 395,698,649 cases, with 5,757,515 deaths.

The Philippines, No. 20 in that listing of 225 countries and territories, logged 3,609,568 cases, with 54,526 deaths, but has shown a continuing decline in new infections since the other week.

The number of infections continued to rise elsewhere reportedly because of Omicron. This extraordinarily contagious variant has caused more cases worldwide over the past 10 weeks – some 90 million – than were seen during all of 2020, the first full year of the pandemic.

The World Health Organization said this week that some countries can now consider carefully relaxing the rules if they have high immunity rates, strong health care systems, and if the epidemiological trends are going in the right direction.

COVID viruses still around, but…

Culled from the week’s COVID reports of the Associated Press and AXIOS:

• England removed last week almost all domestic restrictions. Masks are not required in public, vaccine passes are no longer needed to go to public venues, and the work-from-home order has been lifted. One lingering condition: Those who test positive still have to isolate.

• Norway lifted on Tuesday its ban on serving alcohol after 11 p.m. and the cap on private gatherings of not more than 10 people. People can sit elbow-to-elbow again at events with fixed seating, and sports events can take place as they did before the pandemic.

Norwegian Health Minister Ingvild Kjerkol said, “Now it’s time for us to take back our everyday life. Tonight, we scrap most measures so we can be closer to living a normal life.”

• Denmark took on Tuesday the lead among European Union members by scrapping most restrictions. But many people were still wearing masks in the streets and stores a day later.

• Switzerland scrapped on Wednesday work-at-home and quarantine requirements and announced plans for an easing of other restrictions in the coming weeks.

The Swiss government said: “Despite record-high infection figures, hospitals have not been overburdened and the occupancy of intensive care units has fallen further. There are increasing signs that the acute crisis will soon be over and the endemic phase could begin.”

• Italy has tightened, however, its health pass requirements during the Omicron surge. On Monday, it began requiring at least a negative test within the previous 48 hours to enter banks and post offices, and anyone over 50 who has not been vaccinated risks a 100-euro ($113) fine.

• Austria, the first European country to impose a vaccine mandate, is planning to loosen restrictions this month and let restaurants stay open longer than at present.

• Greece has ordered fines for people who are 60 or older refusing to get vaccinated.

• Germany, where infections are still setting daily records, curbs private gatherings and still requires people to show proof of vaccination or recovery to enter nonessential stores.

• New Zealand said it would ease its strict border controls, freeing New Zealanders being vaccinated from having to stay in military-run quarantine hotels. But the unvaccinated still must quarantine, and most foreigners will still have to wait until October to visit quarantine-free.

• China, host of the Winter Olympics, is sticking to its zero-Covid policy. It imposes strict lockdowns and quarantines quickly when cases are detected, mandates masks on public transportation, and requires people to show “green” status on a health app to enter most restaurants and stores.

• South Africa announced it has exited a fourth wave, saying studies show immunity has hit 60 to 80 percent. Masks are still mandatory, but a curfew has been lifted and schools are required to fully – not just partially — open for the first time since March 2020.

• Tonga, a Pacific island-country that had been virus-free, locked down Wednesday after discovering infections in two port workers helping distribute aid after a volcanic eruption and tsunami.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of February 8, 2022)

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