France relaxes quarantine rules as Europe adapts to Omicron’s spread



  • European countries try to avert the threat of labor shortages resulting from mass self-isolation

France implemented shorter isolation times for vaccinated people exposed to Covid-19 on Monday, as European countries continued to adapt their self-isolation rules to the rapid spread of the Omicron variant while trying to keep workers available in vital areas such as healthcare.

Vaccinated people in France who test positive for Covid-19 must now isolate for seven days, rather than 10, and can end the isolation after five days if they test negative and have had no symptoms for 48 hours. Vaccinated people no longer need to self-isolate if a contact has the virus but must get tested immediately and conduct follow-up tests at home.

Since Jan. 1, Italy has exempted vaccinated people from quarantine in some circumstances. Germany is also debating looser quarantine rules for critical workers and those who have had a vaccine booster shot. The moves show the continued efforts of European governments to avoid lockdowns for fully vaccinated people while focusing restrictions on the unvaccinated. They worry that the Omicron variant could bring parts of the economy to a halt if large numbers of Europeans have to quarantine at home after they or their contacts test positive.

Covid-19 infections in France are spiking, up 131% over the last week to an average of more than 162,000 a day, according to figures published Sunday evening. In response, France is tightening some social-distancing rules. From Monday, those who can work remotely must work from home at least three or four days a week. Bars and restaurants can only serve drinks to people who are seated. And children over the age of six must now wear masks everywhere that teens and adults do, including on the streets of Paris.

France’s National Assembly is set Monday to continue to debate a new bill to convert the country’s health pass, which shows that a person is vaccinated, has recovered from the virus or has tested negative, into a vaccine pass. This would effectively require vaccination against Covid-19 for a range of daily activities, from eating out to taking trains.

Germany’s government will decide on Friday whether to shorten the 14-day quarantine period for people infected with the Omicron variant—or their close contacts—who work in critical infrastructure such as hospitals or power plants, as well as those who have received three vaccine shots. The government hasn’t decided how much to shorten the isolation period by. Isolation for people exposed to the Delta variant can be as short as seven days.

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach said the government is also considering new social-distancing restrictions to slow the spread of the Omicron variant.

Dr. Lauterbach warned that letting Omicron spread to reach a higher level of population immunity, as is policy in some countries, would be dangerous in Germany because of the relatively high number of unvaccinated elderly people. “The cases will multiply quickly, affecting many unvaccinated who are not protected," Dr. Lauterbach said. “That makes me very worried."

Covid infections in Germany, which have fallen sharply since mid-December, appear to be rebounding again. The seven-day average of daily detected infections rose to 29,000 on Monday, around one-third higher than a week ago. But Dr. Lauterbach said the numbers were likely an underestimate due to data-reporting delays.

Throughout the pandemic, Germany’s authorities have stood out among developed countries in struggling to generate timely and reliable Covid-19 data, reflecting a lack of coordination across its federal system of government, as well as a lack of information technology in its public administration, which often relies on fax machines.

Delayed and incomplete data have eroded German public confidence in official figures about the pandemic, according to a survey published on Monday. Some 57% of the surveyed said that they don’t trust official infection numbers, according to the poll by Insa for the newspaper Bild.

Italy too has eased self-isolation rules since the beginning of the year. People who have been vaccinated or have recovered from Covid-19 in the previous four months no longer need to self-isolate if a close contact tests positive, provided they themselves have no symptoms of illness. Italy’s government is considering making vaccination or recovery from Covid-19 a condition for entering all workplaces. A decision could come on Wednesday.

Italy’s total new infections over the past week shot up to around 680,000, more than double the number in the previous week, in a sign that the Omicron variant is spreading rapidly in the country. Long queues in front of testing hubs and pharmacies have become a common sight.

This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text

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