Omicron Is Causing a Rethink in Europe’s Pandemic Strategy

Omicron Is Causing a Rethink in Europe’s Pandemic Strategy
A rapid swab testing site in Rome, Italy, Dec. 30, 2021 (AP photo by Andrew Medichini).

The omicron variant continues to run rampant in Europe, leading the World Health Organization, or WHO, to warn that half of Europeans will have been infected by the new coronavirus variant by the end of next month. But omicron’s unique combination of extreme contagiousness and comparatively mild symptoms is prompting a rethink of the policy measures that governments have adopted to contain the pandemic since its onset.

On Monday, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez gave a radio interview saying that Europe’s coronavirus strategy needs to shift from a focus on tracing, quarantining and social distancing to an approach based on vaccination and self-protection. “I believe we need to evaluate the evolution of COVID toward an endemic status, from a pandemic which is what we have had until now,” he said.

Sanchez may be the first major European leader to make such a suggestion, but he is unlikely to be the last. El Pais newspaper reported that Spain’s left-wing government is planning to adopt the shift Sanchez sketched out in its own COVID-19 policy, with a switch to essentially “managing” it as one would another respiratory illness like the flu. This would entail ending the system of track and trace for individual infections that’s been in place so far during the pandemic and adopting one in which the disease is monitored more broadly at the level of national populations. “It is a debate that we are already trying to open at the EU level—the Minister of Health [Carolina Darias] has raised it with various European health ministers,” Sanchez said. 

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