More countries ease COVID-19 restrictions

More countries ease COVID-19 restrictions

Geneva: Late-night disco partying. Elbow-to-elbow seating in movie theaters. Mask-free baring of faces in public, especially in Europe and North America: Bit by bit, many countries that have been hard-hit by the Coronavirus are opening up and easing their tough, and often unpopular, restrictive measures aimed to fight COVID-19 even as the Omicron variant deemed less severe has caused cases to skyrocket.

The early moves to relax such restrictions evoke a new turning point in a nearly two-year pandemic that has been full of them.

Omicron, the Geneva-based World Health Organization says, has fueled more cases (90 million) in the world over the last 10 weeks than during all of 2020, the outbreak's first full year.

WHO acknowledges some countries can judiciously consider easing the rules if they boast high immunity rates, strong health care systems and favorable epidemiological curves.

Omicron is less likely to cause severe illness than the previous delta variant, according to studies. Omicron spreads even more easily than other Coronavirus strains, and has already become dominant in many countries. It also more easily infects those who have been vaccinated or had previously been infected by prior versions of the virus.

But the U.N. health agency, ever leery about how a virus still spreading widely might evolve, warned about underestimating Omicron.

We are concerned that a narrative has taken hold in some countries that because of vaccines and because of Omicron's high transmissibility and lower severity preventing transmission is no longer possible and no longer necessary, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Gheybreysus said at a regular WHO briefing on the pandemic on Tuesday. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The most pronounced pullbacks are popping up in Europe, for many months the world's epicenter of the pandemic, as well as in South Africa where Omicron was first announced publicly and the United States, which has tallied both the most cases and deaths from COVID-19 of any single country.

Britain, France, Ireland, the Netherlands and several Nordic countries have taken steps to end or ease their COVID-19 restrictions.

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