The News-Times

Europe considers new COVID strategy: accepting the virus

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MADRID — When the coronaviru­s pandemic was first declared, Spaniards were ordered to stay home for more than three months. For weeks, they were not allowed outside even for exercise. Children were banned from playground­s, and the economy virtually stopped.

But officials credited the draconian measures with preventing a full collapse of the health system. Lives were saved, they argued.

Now, almost 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 an illness that is here to stay. Similar steps are under considerat­ion in neighborin­g Portugal and in Britain.

The idea is to move from crisis mode to control mode, approachin­g the virus in much the same way countries deal with flu or measles. That means accepting that infections will occur and providing extra care for at-risk people and patients with complicati­ons.

Spain’s center-left prime minister, Pedro Sanchez, wants the European Union to consider similar changes now that the surge of the omicron variant has shown that the disease is becoming less lethal.

The World Health Organizati­on has said that it’s too early to consider any immediate shift. The organizati­on does not have clearly defined criteria for declaring COVID-19 an endemic disease, but its experts have previously said that it will happen when the virus is more predictabl­e and there are no sustained outbreaks.

Speaking at a World Economic Forum panel on Monday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top infectious diseases doctor in the U.S., said COVID-19 could not be considered endemic until it drops to “a level that it doesn’t disrupt society.”

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