SINGAPORE – England has lifted almost all coronavirus restrictions. Germany is allowing vaccinated people to travel without quarantine. The mask mandate in Italy is over. Shopping malls are open in Singapore.
Eighteen months after the coronavirus first emerged, many governments in Asia and Europe are encouraging people to return to their daily rhythms and transition to a new normal, in which subways, offices, restaurants and airports are once again full Has happened. Increasingly, the mantra is the same: We have to learn to live with the virus.
Yet scientists warn that an exit strategy from the pandemic may be premature. The emergence of more permeable forms means that even wealthy nations with abundant vaccines remain vulnerable. Countries like Australia, which have closed their borders, are learning they cannot keep the virus out.
So instead of giving up on their road map, officials are beginning to believe that rolling lockdowns and restrictions are a necessary part of recovery. People are being encouraged to change their pandemic outlook and focus on avoiding serious illness and death, rather than infections, which are inevitable. And countries with zero-Covid ambitions are rethinking those policies.
“You need to tell people this: We’re going to get a lot of cases,” said Dale Fisher, a professor of medicine at the National University of Singapore, who heads the Singapore Health Ministry’s National Infection Prevention and Control Committee. “And that’s part of the plan – we have to let it go.”
For months, many residents of Singapore, the small Southeast Asian city-state, pored over the details of each new COVID case. When the infection reached double digits for the first time, there was a feeling of fear. And with borders closed, there was a sense of defeat, because even the most diligent measures to contain the infection were not enough.
“Our people are war-weary,” wrote a group of ministers from Singapore. An opinion essay in the Straits Times The newspaper in June “Everyone is asking: when and how will the pandemic end?”
Authorities in Singapore announced plans to gradually ease restrictions and move to the other side of the pandemic. Plans include switching to monitoring the number of people who are very ill rather than infected, how many need intensive care and how many need intubation.
Those measures are already being put to the test.
The outbreak has spread through several karaoke lounges and a large fishing port, and on Tuesday Singapore announced a toughening of measures, including a ban on all dine-in service. Trade Minister Gan Kim Yong said the country was stable on the right track, comparing the latest sanctions to “barriers” toward the end goal.
Singapore has fully vaccinated 49 percent of its population and cites Israel as a model, ahead of 58 percent. Israel has tended to focus on critical illness, a strategy that officials have called “soft suppression”. It is also facing its own sharp rise in cases, with hundreds of new cases being reported a day, up from single digits a month ago. The country recently reimposed an indoor mask mandate.
“It’s important, but it’s quite annoying,” said Danny Levy, 56, an Israeli civil servant who waited to see a movie at a cinema complex in Jerusalem last week. Mr Levy said he would wear his mask inside the theatre, but he found it disappointing that restrictions were being reimposed while new virus variants were entering the country due to weak testing and supervision of incoming passengers.
Michael Baker, an epidemiologist at the University of Otago in New Zealand, said countries taking shortcuts on their way to reopen are putting unvaccinated people at risk and gambling with life.
“At this point in time, I actually find it quite surprising that governments will decide that they know enough about how this virus will behave in populations to say, ‘Yeah, we’re going to live with this,'” Mr. Baker, who helped formulate New Zealand’s COVID elimination strategy.
New Zealanders seem to have accepted the possibility of longer-term sanctions. recently survey commissioned by the government Of the more than 1,800 people, 90 percent of respondents said they did not expect life to return to normal after vaccination, partly because of lingering questions about the virus.
Scientists still do not fully understand the “long covid” – the long-term symptom that hundreds of thousands of previously infected patients are still battling. He says that Kovid-19 should not be treated like the flu, because it is far more dangerous. They are also uncertain about the duration of immunity conferred by the vaccines and how well they protect against the variants.
Much of the developing world still faces increasing infections, giving the virus a greater opportunity to replicate rapidly, which then increases the risk of more mutations and spread. Only 1 percent of people in low-income countries have received a dose of the vaccine, according to our world in data Assignment or Project.
In Australia, several state lawmakers suggested this month that the country has reached “a fork in the road” on which it needs to decide between continuing restrictions and learning to live with infections. He said Australia may need to follow much of the world and abandon its COVID-zero approach.
Gladys Berejiklian, the leader of the Australian state of New South Wales, immediately rejected the proposal. “No state or nation or any country on the planet can live with the delta version when our vaccination rates are so low,” she said. Only about 11 percent of Australians over the age of 16 have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison also supported the call for changes to the country’s COVID protocol. after announcement of A four-stage plan to return to regular life on July 2, he has insisted that the strength of the Delta version required an indefinite postponement.
In places where vaccine shots have been widely available for months, such as Europe, countries have bet big on their vaccination programs as the key to staving off the pandemic and keeping hospitalizations and deaths down.
Germans who have been fully immunized in the past six months can eat indoors in restaurants without showing evidence of a negative rapid test. They are allowed to meet in private without any limit and travel without a 14-day quarantine.
In Italy, masks are only required when entering shops or crowded places, but many people continue to wear them, even if only as a chin guard. “My daughters scold me – they say I’ve been vaccinated and I don’t need to wear a mask, but I’m used to it,” said Marina Castro, who lives in Rome.
England, which has vaccinated almost all of its most vulnerable residents, has taken the harshest approach. On Monday, the country ended almost all COVID-19 restrictions, despite a rise in delta-type infections, especially among young people.
On “Independence Day”, as the tabloids called it, pubs, restaurants and nightclubs opened their doors. Restrictions on gatherings and mask requirements were also lifted. People were seen eating al fresco and sunbathing, cheek to jowl.
In the absence of most regulations, the government is urging people to exercise “personal responsibility” to maintain safety. Sajid Javid, Britain’s health secretary – who tested positive for coronavirus last week – said last month that the country must “learn to live” with the virus. This is despite polls suggesting that the English public prefers a more gradual approach to reopening.
Officials in Singapore, which on Tuesday reported a year-high of 182 local infections, say the number of cases is likely to rise in the coming days. The outbreak appears to have been delayed, but there are no plans to reopen in a phased manner.
“You give people a sense of progress, instead of waiting for that big day when everything opens up and then you go crazy,” Singapore’s Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said this month.
Reporting was contributed by Damien Cave from sydney, isabelle kershner from Jerusalem, Melissa Eddy from berlin, Natasha Frostow Auckland, New Zealand, and . from benjamin muller from London.