As people around the world queue up for vaccine shots, some dream of finally being able to attend football games or live music events, while others simply hope this means they can buy groceries safely. The approach towards easing stringent measure varies from country to country — while some opt for a gradual opening, others have lifted measures altogether.
Gradual reopening and public health measures such as mandatory wearing of masks indoors, indoor capacity restrictions, social distancing, and implementing vaccine passports are some strategies that countries can adopt. Countries have also been reopening their borders for international travel to cope with the economic and social impacts of the pandemic, that continue to become more acute.
What have some countries done to reduce restrictions?
Sweden, Norway, and Denmark are among the countries that have decided to live with COVID-19. Denmark was the first country in the European Union that lifted all COVID-19 restrictions. Norway said that “the time has come to return to a normal daily life” and does not require proof of vaccination for citizens to enter nightclubs, bars or restaurants. Sweden also abolished all COVID-19 related restrictions, announcing that the pandemic has been brought under control.
What are the possible risks from having fewer restrictions?
Optimistic projections estimate that by mid-2022, death and disease rates for COVID-19 may be lower than that of the seasonal common flu owing to the increase in global immunity resulting from high vaccination rates of a population, or moderate vaccination levels coupled with significant prior COVID-19 infections. As a result, this has encouraged the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions in many countries across the globe.
Yet, the capacities of public health systems remain a concern for most governments, who resort to keeping a close watch on COVID-19 case numbers, ready to re-impose restrictions whenever deemed necessary. People and businesses are thus caught in confusion when these policies are adjusted.
Additionally, while there is a resumption of international activities as borders open up following vaccine rollouts, the lack of harmonised border measures, restrictions and procedures is a cause of confusion for travellers—who resort to finalising plans as late as possible to keep up with rapidly changing regulations, incited by new virus strands. Fragmented rules about vaccine acceptance, documentation, as well as testing requirements are costly and difficult to navigate.
The return to normalcy is fragile. Countries that are reopening faster have reported a higher death toll in the earlier stages of the pandemic. As individuals begin to integrate back into society — balancing their work and personal lives — the risks of cluster infections remain. Vaccine inequality also remains a concern, especially as it creates unvaccinated pockets where the virus can continue to mutate and spread.
Read on to find out if the costs of reducing COVID-19 restrictions are too high.