Europe mulls ways to dampen economic impact of Omicron surge

Madrid Desk, Jan 2 (EFE),- The United Kingdom is braced for staff shortages of up to 25% in sectors like education and health, where remote working is not an option, as the festive period comes to an end with a major spike in daily Covid-19 cases while France is set to shorten mandatory quarantine periods to soften the economic impact of soaring infections.

A surge of Covid-19 cases across Europe, driven by the Omicron variant, has continued into 2022, prompting a host of nations to tighten restrictions over the Christmas and New Year holiday period.

With schools set to return in the coming days, the UK government advised that pupils in England should wear facemasks in classrooms and corridors in a bid to pre-emptively thwart mass outbreaks of Covid-19 among youngsters.

Ministers have been told to prepare “robust contingency plans” after the government warned some workforces, such as healthcare staff and teachers, could see absences ranging from 10-25% due to Covid-19, the Cabinet Office said in a statement.

The UK’s daily infection tallies have broken several records in recent days and reached nearly 190,000 on New Year’s Eve, although it is no longer a European outlier.

In France, which has reported soaring numbers of over 200,000 cases in this latest Covid-19 wave, fully vaccinated people who test positive for coronavirus will from Monday only have to isolate for seven days rather than 10 and could cut that period to five days with a negative test result.

Unvaccinated people will have to be isolated for 10 days, but could leave on day seven with a negative result.

The change in rules, designed to stave off huge labor shortages, also scraps obligatory quarantine for contacts of Covid positive cases, health minister Olivier Veran told local press, replacing it with testing on day two and four after the contact.

Italian authorities and union representatives are to kick off the week studying a return-to-school strategy — specifically whether in-person classes could return between January 7-10, depending on infection rates, or if it should be further postponed until vaccinations rates among 5-11 year-olds are higher.

The seven-day cumulative Covid-19 incidence rate in Germany, which according to official data has yet to see the kind of surges reported in France, Spain, the UK and Italy, is creeping up and Omicron is forecast to become the dominant coronavirus variant this week.

The rate has increased to 222.7 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, up from 220.7 last week but the Robert Koch Institute of disease control has repeatedly warned that infections may have been under-reported over the festive period.

Russian health authorities on Sunday reported fewer than 19,000 Covid-19 cases in 24 hours for the first time in three-and-a-half months. EFE


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