Two years after the pandemic broke out, a Covid-weary world finds itself at the crossroads. Even as China and Hong Kong continue to enforce tough restrictions, some European nations are preparing to live with the virus in a business-as-usual way. In the UK, mask-wearing in public places and Covid passports will not be mandatory from January 26, with PM Boris Johnson declaring that the latest wave has ‘peaked nationally’. Early next month, France will lift the cap on the number of people allowed to attend indoor and outdoor events, while masks will no longer be a must in public. In Portugal, which boasts of one of the world’s highest Covid vaccination rates, President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa has announced that the country has moved into an endemic phase. Spain is making plans to treat the next surge not as an emergency but an illness that is here to stay. ‘Covid-19 must be treated like other illnesses,’ says Dr Salvador Trenche, head of the renowned Spanish Society of Family and Community Medicine, adding that ‘normalised attention’ by health professionals would help reduce delays in treatment of ailments not related to the coronavirus.
What these approaches have in common is a forceful argument: the fear and paranoia surrounding Covid-19 have to go. We have had enough disruptions — making the already battered economy suffer even more is nothing but a recipe for disaster. It’s an indisputable fact that while the cases are soaring, hospitalisations and deaths are not rising at the same rate, thanks to wide coverage of vaccination in many countries and the Omicron variant’s lesser severity.
Is India ready to bite the bullet and adopt the new Covid playbook? The Maharashtra Government has taken the lead by announcing the reopening of schools for physical classes from January 24. The Centre has highlighted that unlike the destructive second wave, the current surge is not getting out of hand due to comprehensive vaccination. This trend should make the Central and state authorities confident of the robustness of their pandemic response and not destroy livelihoods, come what may.