Europe loosens COVID policies as Omicron withdraws key workers

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MADRID / PRAGUE – The Czech Republic said on Monday it would allow essential workers such as doctors and teachers to go to work after a positive COVID-19 test, the latest European country to ease restrictions to keep services running then as cases increase.

As the much more contagious Omicron variant becomes dominant and forces hundreds of thousands of people to self-isolate, pressure increases on health workers, police and firefighters, with teachers having to keep up with the resumption of schools after the attacks. Christmas vacation.


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But at the same time, data showing Omicron is less likely to fill hospital beds, especially since many or most people are now vaccinated, has encouraged governments to reduce isolation measures and to focus on saving their struggling savings.

The working hours lost due to the pandemic around the world in 2020 were equivalent to the disappearance of 258 million full-time jobs, according to the International Labor Organization (ILO), and last year the figure s’ still amounted to about 125 million jobs.

Britain, France, Switzerland, Spain and Belgium have all reduced quarantine periods over the past three weeks and relaxed some of the return-to-work conditions for infected staff.

Czech ministers are drawing up a list of essential workers who will be allowed to continue working despite a positive test, and said health, social service and education workers are likely to be included, as well as drivers and drivers. other essential services such as hospital laundry.


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“Governments are showing much less willingness to impose major blockages, or even impose minor measures, in response to the Omicron wave,” said ILO economist Stefan Kuhn.

France and Switzerland have both reduced quarantine periods to seven days from 10 since Christmas for those who test positive.


In England, the reduction is the same if the infected person records a negative antigen test two days in a row – which, according to the British Health Security Agency, was almost as effective as 10 days of isolation.

In Spain – where the 14-day average infection rate hit a new record of 2,723 cases per 100,000 inhabitants on Friday, more than 10 times more than at the start of December – the downsizing is being felt in almost all sectors.


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The National Police Union said many police officers were doubling down to cover up isolated colleagues.

National train operator Renfe said twice as many drivers were on leave with COVID-19 as at the start of December and had to cancel around quarantine services on Friday.

But rules adopted on December 22 now allow staff to return to work without taking a coronavirus test.

The Department of Health has also set a viral load threshold below which an infected person who takes a PCR test can be considered non-infectious and therefore fit for work – allowing doctors, social workers and some police officers to report at work even if they are positive. .

Rafael Bengoa, co-founder of the Bilbao Institute for Health and Strategy, said authorities should focus more on managing the infection than preventing it.


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“Pandemics do not end with a huge boom, but with small waves because many have been infected or vaccinated,” said the former senior official of the World Health Organization (WHO).

“After Omicron, we shouldn’t have to worry about more than small waves.”

And there are signs that governments are listening.

“We have the conditions to… start to assess the evolution of this disease with different parameters from those we have so far,” Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez told Cadena SER radio.

(Reporting by Clara-Laeila Laudette, Corina Pons and Emma Pinedo in Madrid, Emma Farge in Geneva, Jason Hovet in Prague; additional reporting by Inti Landauro and Nathan Allen in Madrid; writing by Clara-Laeila Laudette; editing by Kevin Liffey)



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Mary I. Bruner