The change of Omicron in Europe: pandemic or endemic? – International

LONDON – No United Kingdom, at France, at Spain and in other countries across the Europe, policymakers and some public health experts are recommending a new approach to coronavirus pandemic full of courage and resignation: that the Covid-19 is becoming an element of everyday life.

Governments are capitalizing on a time when their populations have seen fewer severe cases of the disease and, in some cases, a decrease in the daily number of new infections, after weeks of record growth. And they are decreasing the urgency of their mitigation policies.

In Spain, for example, the prime minister Pedro Sanchez declared last week that citizens “will have to learn to live with the coronavirus, as we do with many other viruses” and said that his country must align its national approach against covid-19 to a level close to the way it deals with outbreaks. of flu. The French Minister of Health, Olivier Veran, recently said that his country’s high infection rate and high vaccination rate could “maybe” mean this is the final wave of coronavirus.

The change of position takes place even after the World Health Organization (WHO) warned this week about treating Covid-19 like a seasonal flu, saying it’s too early for such an approach. Much is still unknown about Covid-19, the WHO said. And the surge in cases driven by the Ômicron variant still plagues the continent, while the population of much of the world remains vulnerable to the virus due to the lack of widespread vaccination, and more strains could still emerge.

Still, proponents of the “learn to live with it” approach point out that the latest spike in Covid-19 cases differs from the pandemic’s early days in important ways, including the largely vaccinated population in Europe, especially Western Europe. , and the much lower hospitalization rate.

The sentiment is evident in the evolving policies the British government has adopted since the start of this year, which have moved sharply away from the “war foot” the public health service preached in December.

The changes include shorter periods of isolation and the elimination of mandatory anti-covid tests prior to travel by people heading to the United Kingdom — in large part because Ômicron is already so prevalent that testing has had a limited effect on containing its spread.

There were some concrete signs that the UK could be turning a page. As of Friday, 99,652 new cases were reported, a notable drop from the 178,250 cases reported on the same day last week.

Peter English, a retired infectious disease control consultant, said that for many British public health experts and scientists, the debate had moved away from lockdowns towards sensible mitigation measures. Most of them are currently encouraging measures such as mandatory mask use in public places and legislation to regulate ventilation standards in closed spaces.

“There was a discussion about Covid-zero and trying to eliminate the virus through restrictions,” he said. “I think we lost that discussion. By allowing the spread to get to the point it has, it will be very, very difficult to put the genie back in the bottle.”

From this perspective, he said, we will have to live with its endemic disease. But, he added, “endemic does not mean less serious”, and he advised caution against the idea of ​​simply “learning to live with the virus” without mitigation measures being applied.

hospitals

One of the biggest concerns in the UK has been the intense strain the virus places on the National Health System (NHS). But some of the immediate concerns that British hospitals could be depleted by Covid patients began to dissipate during the latest wave of the virus.

Matthew Taylor, director of the NHS Confederation, an organization that brings together hospital directors, said on Wednesday that unless things change surprisingly, the country is close to the national peak of Covid hospitalizations.

In Spain, a new monitoring system is being created to be deployed once the current rise in the number of cases subsides, and the country has also recently relaxed isolation rules. But Madrid’s move to treat Omicron more like a flu has been criticized by some doctors and professional associations, as well as the European Medicines Agency, which says the virus still behaves in a pandemic fashion.

In France, infections are still on the rise, with approximately 300,000 new daily Covid cases reported this week, nearly six times the rate a month ago. but the president Emmanuel Macron, facing the presidential election in April, chose to keep restrictions to a minimum and focused instead on insisting the French get vaccinated.

THE Germany is several weeks behind its European neighbors in combating the increase in infections. On Tuesday, the country reported 80,430 new cases, breaking the record set in November. But independent scientific experts refrained from advising the government to impose new restrictions, despite widespread certainty that the number of infections would continue to rise.

Christian Drosten, Germany’s most renowned virologist, noted that the country will finally have to mobilize to treat the virus as endemic. “Let’s put it this way: we shouldn’t throw the doors wide open,” he said last week in a podcast interview. “But in some areas we have to open the doors a little bit to the virus.”

Italy is also struggling with some of the highest daily infection rates since the start of the pandemic. But in recent weeks the country has tightened restrictions, making vaccination mandatory for people over the age of 50 and including a health pass requirement when using public transport.

A spokesperson for Italy’s Ministry of Health said the country “is still in a delicate phase” and that the recent rise in the daily number of cases continues to put pressure on ICUs. Italian scientists have tended to agree that it is too early to declare the coronavirus situation endemic, even though the time has come to “start thinking about a new normal” in coexistence with the coronavirus, said Fabrizio Pregliasco, a virus specialist at the University. from Milan.

This kind of caution is evident among a wide range of health professionals and scientists across Europe, some of whom published an appeal this week in the British Medical Journal for better coordination in the fight against the pandemic. They argued that there is still an urgent need to “reduce infections, to avoid overwhelming healthcare systems and protect public life and the economy.”

“Even on the most optimistic considerations,” they wrote, “allowing Omicron to spread unchecked risks potentially devastating consequences.” / TRANSLATION BY AUGUSTO CALIL

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