When the coronavirus pandemic was first announced, Spaniards were ordered to stay home for more than three months. For weeks he was not even allowed to go out for exercise. Children were banned from playgrounds, and the economy almost took off.
But officials credit the drastic measures for preventing a complete collapse of the health system. Lives were saved, he argued.
Now, nearly two years later, Spain is preparing to adopt a different COVID-19 playbook. With one of Europe’s highest vaccination rates and its most pandemic-battered economies, the government is laying the groundwork to treat the next infection surge not as an emergency but as a disease that is here to stay. is for. Similar moves are under consideration in neighboring Portugal and the UK.
The idea is to move from crisis mode to containment mode, approaching the virus the way countries deal with the flu or measles. This means acknowledging that infection will occur and providing extra care for people at risk and patients with complications.
Spain’s centre-left prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, wants the European Union to consider similar changes now, as the growth of the Omicron variant has shown the disease is becoming less deadly.
“What we are saying is that in the next few months and years, we will have to think without hesitation and according to what science tells us, how to manage the pandemic with different parameters,” he said on Monday.
Sanchez said the changes shouldn’t happen before the Omicron boom is over, but officials need to start shaping the post-pandemic world now: “We’re doing our homework, anticipating scenarios.”
The World Health Organization has said it is too early to consider any immediate changes. The organization does not have clearly defined criteria for declaring COVID-19 an endemic disease, but its experts have previously said this will happen when the virus is more predictable and there will be no continued outbreaks.
“It’s a somewhat subjective decision because it’s not just about the number of cases. It’s about the severity, and it’s about the impact,” said Dr. Michael Ryan, WHO’s chief of emergencies.
Speaking at the World Economic Forum panel on Monday, Dr Anthony Fauci, the top infectious diseases doctor in the US, said COVID-19 cannot be considered endemic until it “decrees to a level that does not disrupt society.” Do.”
The European Center for Disease Prevention and Control has advised countries to deal with COVID-19 more regularly after the acute phase of the pandemic is over. The agency said in a statement that more EU states besides Spain would like to adopt a “more long-term, sustainable monitoring approach”.
More than 80% of Spain’s population has received a double dose of the vaccine, and officials are focusing on boosting the immunity of adults with a third dose.
Salvador Trench, head of the Spanish Society of Family and Community Medicine, said vaccine-acquired immunity offers an opportunity to focus prevention efforts, testing and disease-tracking resources on moderate to high-risk groups, with widespread infection. Is. The call for a new spatial response has led.
COVID-19 “should be treated like the rest of the disease,” Trench told the Associated Press, adding that “generalized attention” by health professionals would help reduce delays in treatment for problems related to the coronavirus.
The public also needs to come to terms with the idea that some deaths from COVID-19 “will be inevitable,” Trench said.
“We can’t do what we were doing the first time on the sixth wave: the model needs to change if we want to get different results,” he said.
The Spanish health ministry said it was too early to share any blueprints being drawn up by its experts and advisers, but the agency confirmed that a proposal is to follow the current model of “sentinel surveillance” currently in place in the European Union for influenza. used for monitoring.
The strategy has been nicknamed “flu-ization” of COVID-19 by Spanish media, although officials say the system for influenza will need to be significantly adapted to the coronavirus.
For now, discussions about moving to an endemic approach are limited to wealthy countries who can talk about the worst pandemics in the past. Their access to vaccines and robust public health systems is the envy of the developing world.
It is also unclear how a spatial strategy will coexist with the “zero-Covid” approach adopted by China and other Asian countries and how it will affect international travel.
Many countries overwhelmed by record numbers of omicron cases are already massively cutting testing and quarantine times, especially for workers who show no more than cold-like symptoms. Since the start of the year, classes in Spanish schools have only stopped when there are large outbreaks, not as they used to with the first reported case.
In Portugal, with one of the world’s highest vaccination rates, President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa announced in a New Year’s speech that the country “has gone into an endemic phase.” But debate over specific measures intensified as the spread soon reached record levels – with nearly 44,000 new cases reported in 24 hours on Tuesday.
However, hospitalizations and deaths in the vaccinated world are proportionately smaller than in previous surges.
In the United Kingdom, wearing masks in public places and COVID-19 passports will be removed on January 26, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson announcing on Wednesday that the latest wave had “peaked nationally.”
The need for infected people to isolate for a full five days remains, but Johnson said he would try to eliminate it in the coming weeks if virus figures continue to improve. Official figures place 95% of the British population who have developed antibodies against COVID-19 from infection or vaccination.
“As COVID becomes endemic, we will need to replace legal requirements with advice and guidance, urging people with the virus to be careful and take care of others,” Johnson said.
For some other European governments, the idea of normalizing COVID-19 contrasts with their efforts to promote vaccination among reluctant groups.
In Germany, where less than 73% of the population has received two doses and infection rates are setting new records almost daily, comparisons to Spain or any other country are being dismissed.
“We still don’t have a lot of people vaccinated, especially our older citizens,” Health Ministry spokesman Andreas Defner said on Monday.
Italy is expanding its vaccination order to all citizens 50 or older and imposing fines of up to 1,500 euros for those who come to work. Italians are also required to be fully vaccinated in order to access public transport, planes, gyms, hotels and trade fairs.
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