Chief physician Thomas Marx puts on his personal protective equipment before entering the room of a patient with Covid-19 in an intensive care unit at a hospital in Freising, southern Germany.
LENNART PRICE | AFP | Getty Images
Plan B measures implemented in December, when the omicron Covid variant rose sharply in the UK, mean that face masks are mandatory in most indoor public spaces such as public transport, shops, theaters and cinemas, and that people are advised to work from home if possible.
High school students must wear masks in classrooms as part of the strategy to reduce the spread of the highly contagious variant, and Covid passes – which show whether a person is fully vaccinated or have a recent negative test – are required for larger venues.
Since the measures were introduced, the UK has launched a massive booster vaccination campaign and has seen the number of omicron cases fall. Booster shots restore much of the Covid vaccine protection that has been lost due to declining immunity, and against the more transmissible variant that has undermined Covid shots more than its predecessor, the delta strain.
On top of the omicron wave in early 2022, the UK registered over 200,000 new Covid infections a day. It reported 94,432 new cases on Tuesday.
“Decisions on the next steps remain finely balanced,” a spokesman for the British government said on Tuesday.
“Plan B was implemented in December to slow the rapid spread of the extremely transmissible omicron variant and get more shocks in the arms,” the spokesman said, noting that 36 million booster shots have been administered across the UK
But the spokesman added that the omicron variant “continues to pose a significant threat and the pandemic is not over. Infections remain high, but recent data are encouraging, with cases beginning to decline.”
Virologists have largely predicted that the rise and fall of omicron cases should be shorter and sharper than with previous variants due to its increased transmissibility. Although it is more easily spread, the variant has so far appeared to cause less serious illness, so an increase in hospitalizations and deaths has not followed the increase in cases.
On Tuesday, the Guardian newspaper reported that the UK government could be set to announce that all Covid restrictions could end in March, two years after Britain went into its first lockdown in 2020 as the government pursues its plan to must “learn to live with the virus.”
There are early signs and hopes that the omicron wave has also peaked in some US states, although the World Health Organization warned on Wednesday that the pandemic will not end as the omicron variant declines in some countries, and warns that the high levels of infection around the world is likely to lead to new variants as the virus mutates.
Europe’s omicron meltdown
While England seeks to ease the measures, it is unlikely that such a strategy will be implemented on the European mainland, where omicron cases are rising dramatically.
France reported 464,769 new Covid infections on Tuesday, its highest recorded number during the pandemic, while Germany on Wednesday reported more than 100,000 cases, also a record for the country.
In the Netherlands, frustration has grown with a continued partial closure as Covid infections have increased despite restrictions. On Tuesday, 31,426 confirmed cases were reported, just below a record number of about 42,000 cases hit at the start of the week.
Last Friday, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte announced the reopening of unnecessary shops, hairdressers, beauty salons and fitness centers, noting that “we are taking a big step and that also means we are taking a big risk.”
But Rutte warned that the uncertainty surrounding the omicron variant meant bars, restaurants and cultural venues would have to remain closed until at least January 25th.