It’s the same phenomenon almost everywhere. As a new corona variant, Omikron dominates the infection process in record time. Experts assume that a large number of people will become infected. Some countries therefore want to say goodbye to their previous strategies for combating the pandemic. Some examples.
ISRAEL: RELAXED RULES AT FORMER VACCINATION CHAMPIONS
The numbers don’t stop climbing. Israel’s Ministry of Health recently reported around 40,000 new infections per day. The country’s record level was just over 11,000 a short time ago, a value that was measured in September. Now the numbers are increasing by several thousand almost every day, with no prospect of an improvement in the near future. The omicron wave has hit Israel, the former world champion in vaccination, with full force.
The strange thing about it is that anyone who walks through the streets of Israeli cities these days hardly notices it. There are often winding queues of people in front of many test centers. But otherwise? In Tel Aviv, a city classified as “red” for high infection rates, people are crowding bars and cafes as if Corona were a thing of the past.
Certainly, here and there lessons or childcare are canceled because too many staff are in home quarantine. Some events are also cancelled. But fitness centers, museums and cinemas are open. And the word lockdown, which the previous administration used to discipline citizens at every sign of a new wave, seems to have disappeared from the vocabulary of their successors.
This is probably also due to the fact that a number that some consider to be the more important is comparatively low: that of the severe course of the disease. There are currently almost 400 of them. In previous waves, the number of seriously ill had climbed to more than a thousand – a major challenge for the health system. The current wave, on the other hand, presents clinics with a different problem. Because so many people get infected and are sent into home quarantine, medical staff is becoming scarce in many places.
Instead of adopting large-scale bans and restrictions, the government under Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is now trying to adjust individual rules. A few days ago, she shortened the mandatory quarantine for infected people from ten to seven days.
In addition, vaccinated people who have had contact with an infected person can now escape from home quarantine under certain conditions with a negative antigen test. A PCR test was previously required. However, the test centers were recently unable to meet the growing demand. Even the antigen tests are now running short in the face of the sudden rush for them.
Some experts are even calling for further relaxation of the test and quarantine rules. The epidemiologist Hagai Levine, for example, chairman of the Israeli Medical Association, recently advocated only forcing tests and home quarantine on those people who developed typical Covid symptoms. The government should treat the coronavirus like other infectious diseases. The Ministry of Health sharply reprimanded the initiative. Such demands generated “an irresponsible conversation aimed at undermining public confidence.”
With this trust, however, things do not seem to be going well. In a survey published by TV channel Zwölf last week, 63 percent of respondents rated the government’s response to the latest wave of Covid as “poor”. Even ministers are critical. “We are not clear in our instructions and the public is constantly demanding clarifications,” said Economy Minister Orna Barbivai recently. “In public perception we have given up the fight against the pandemic.”
SPAIN: GIVING LESS IMPORTANCE TO THE PANDEMIC
Those who travel to the Spanish capital Madrid rub their eyes in amazement: life pulsates in the nightlife and shopping districts of the metropolis as if there were no omicron waves. No one requires proof of health to go to cafes, pubs, restaurants or theatres. Hundreds of thousands of children are going back to school – without any compulsory tests for students and teachers. Top football club Real Madrid also continues to play in front of tens of thousands of fans.
At the same time, Spain’s socialist head of government, Pedro Sánchez, is causing some unrest by announcing a change of strategy. It is time, he said in a radio interview, to attach less importance to the pandemic and to look at Corona like other recurring diseases in the future. Kind of like the annual flu outbreaks. This means, for example, that one should say goodbye to the previous, time-consuming collection and tracking of all corona infections and mass tests. “The situation of the pandemic today is no longer what we had a year ago,” said Sánchez.
Health Secretary Carolina Darias later provided details of her boss’s push. Above all, she referred to the high vaccination rate in Spain, which brought the country a lot of international praise in the autumn. In the first vaccination campaign, the country had achieved the third highest vaccination rate in Europe at 80 percent.
But now, in the booster campaign, things aren’t going so well. So far, only 36 percent of the Spaniards have taken the refresher trick. This puts the country in the middle of the European rankings. Experts fear that the growing state of composure in dealing with Corona could be transferred to the population and impair the willingness to vaccinate, which was so great in the past. In order to increase the quota, the government has now released boosters for all Spaniards aged 18 and over. Until now, it was only possible for those over 40 and for people with immunodeficiency.
Virologists warn that Spain’s relaxation course is tantamount to “playing with fire”. “The only thing we will achieve if we don’t act is more infections,” says epidemiologist Daniel López Acuña. The World Health Organization (WHO) also criticized Spain’s assessment that the virus pandemic was increasingly comparable to a cold or flu wave.
As Spain continues to relax its corona policy, infections are exploding across the country. The official seven-day incidence is currently 1,500 new infections per 100,000 inhabitants, in Mallorca it already exceeds 1,600. More than a million new infections have been reported in the past few days.
In reality, the incidence is probably even higher, since the health authorities cannot carry out an analysis in all suspected cases given the mass of infections. In the absence of state testing options, more and more people are trying to get clarity with self-tests from the pharmacy. The industry used this to charge citizens up to 15 euros per test. That is why the government has now set a maximum price for the self-tests: they must not cost more than 2.94 euros.
The situation in Spain’s hospitals is not yet critical, but it is worrying. Routine operations have to be postponed in more and more hospitals. Most recently, more than 17,000 corona patients were in the clinics, 2,200 of them in the intensive care units.
TURKEY: SHORTENED QUARANTINE AND LIMITED TESTING
Turkey is also relaxing its measures against the pandemic in the middle of the Omicron wave. From now on, even unvaccinated people no longer have to show a PCR test to use public transport or to visit theatres, cinemas and concerts. Unvaccinated people no longer need to be tested at work either; This applies to the public service as well as to the private sector, the Ministry of the Interior emphasized in a decree on Saturday. The government initially lifted the test requirement for domestic flights, but reintroduced it on Sunday after heavy criticism.
According to the government’s Corona Advisory Board, PCR tests are no longer necessary, the Interior Ministry said. Health Minister Fahrettin Koca announced a few days ago that the mandatory isolation for infected people will end immediately after seven days without a negative test result. Fully vaccinated contacts no longer have to be quarantined. In the future, PCR tests will only be available for corona patients who show symptoms. Koca emphasized that the omicron variant is also spreading more and more in Turkey, but has not yet led to an overload of the health system.
With the measures, the country follows the example of other countries. However, the Turks cannot test themselves because, unlike in other countries, rapid antigen tests are not freely available. The government has failed to buy rapid tests on a large scale, says virologist Mehmet Ceyhan, a prominent critic of Turkey’s corona policy.
In addition, the easing of the measures will result in a decrease in the willingness to vaccinate, Ceyhan told the opposition newspaper Cumhuriyet. The government presented the Turkish vaccine Turkovac just a few weeks ago, which it believes should convince many vaccine skeptics. Around 84 percent of people over the age of 18 in Turkey are currently vaccinated at least twice; about 23 million of the 84 million Turks have received a booster vaccination.
Ceyhan was tough on Koca’s easing course. The government is practically giving up its fight against the pandemic, he said. If tested properly, Turkey would certainly have more than 200,000 cases a day, and not 60,000 to 70,000 new infections as it is officially called. The government is acting according to the motto: “Let omicron spread, thousands of people should die,'” says Ceyhan. Medical associations also accused the government of putting human lives at risk. Experts accused the government of sending Turkey on a blind flight.
Source From: Tagesspiegel