A return to normal life — or something approaching it — is starting across Europe. From the reopening of restaurants and nightlife to the loosening of quarantine measures and removal of mask mandates, some of the bloc’s biggest economies are relaxing their Covid-19 rules in spite of record case numbers, fueled largely by the spread of Omicron. Officials say that they’re able to do so because the variant is causing less severe illness and hospitalizations among their highly vaccinated populations.
Britain’s Health Secretary Sajid Javid on Monday scrapped an order forcing all frontline medical workers in England to get vaccinated, saying that while vaccination remained “our best line of defense” it was no longer “proportionate” to require it. The U-turn followed England’s decision to drop its so-called “Plan B” restrictions, introduced to combat the Omicron variant, as cases plateau.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that it is starting to see a worrying increase in deaths in most regions of the world, and that it was premature for any country to give up attempts to halt transmission. “We’re 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. Nothing could be further from the truth,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters on Tuesday.
“More transmission means more deaths. We are not calling for any country to return to so-called lockdown. But we are calling on all countries to protect their people using every tool in the toolkit, not vaccines alone. It’s premature for any country either to surrender, or to declare victory,” he added.
YOU ASKED. WE ANSWERED
Q: Should you wait for an Omicron specific booster?
Here are two key reasons why:
- First, there is growing evidence that a third shot of Pfizer or Moderna or a second vaccine following Johnson & Johnson is needed to sustain strong protection against Covid-19. Last month, three large new studies from the CDC found that boosters protect against severe illness and reduce the likelihood of contracting coronavirus.
- Second, Omicron-specific vaccines are still in clinical trials. Pfizer and BioNTech announced Tuesday that they’re beginning trials for an Omicron-specific Covid-19 vaccine, and Moderna revealed Wednesday that it has entered Phase 2 of its own trial of a vaccine that targets the variant. These trials will take months to complete, and with Omicron still surging, people shouldn’t delay their boosters.
READS OF THE WEEK
Pfizer applies to the FDA for a two-dose vaccine for children under 5
The request for emergency authorization comes as the Omicron variant fuels a record rise in pediatric infections. Since the start of the pandemic, at least 11.4 million children have tested positive for Covid-19, the American Academy of Pediatrics reported Monday, with over 3.5 million cases reported in January alone. Children made up 22.8% of the total reported cases for the week ending January 27.
A universal vaccine could be the future of the coronavirus fight
Scientists are working to develop a “pan-coronavirus” vaccine — one that offers protection against multiple variants of the coronavirus that causes Covid-19.
But such vaccines are “going to take years to develop,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said during a White House briefing on Wednesday.
What it’s like to fly into Beijing’s Olympic “bubble”
The Beijing Winter Olympics is being hosted inside a veritable fortress — known informally as the “bubble” — that takes weeks of careful planning to penetrate. Designed to prevent the spread of Covid, the bubble is the most ambitious quarantine attempted anywhere since the start of the pandemic.
Across China, entire communities have been forced into lockdown over a single Covid case. Any failure to contain cases at the Winter Games could undermine the country’s zero-Covid strategy and put the entire nation’s health and reputation at risk.
You’re ready to swap your old cloth masks for N95s as some experts recommend, but the higher price tag and two little words — “single use” — are giving you pause. How long can you really wear an N95 and still protect yourself and others from Covid-19 risk?
- Avoid touching the front outer part of the mask when putting it on. Instead, try to handle it by the edges or straps.
- These masks are designed to handle a lot of particles and will continue to work even after they are worn in crowded settings. But if you know you were exposed to someone with Covid, Marr recommends throwing away the mask.
- If the mask becomes damp, visibly dirty, bent, creased or otherwise damaged — including from wearing makeup — you need to replace it since these conditions could decrease the mask’s effectiveness.
LISTEN TO OUR PODCAST
In Europe, leaders are starting to turn the page on the pandemic. It’s a different story in the US