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Europe looks at a new COVID-19 strategy. Accepting the virus

MADRID (AP), -- The coronavirus pandemic in Spain was declared at first. Spaniards were told to stay inside for three months. They were forbidden from going outside for weeks. The economy was virtually shut down because children were not allowed to play on playgrounds.

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Europe looks at a new COVID-19 strategy. Accepting the virus

Officials credited the draconian measures for preventing the collapse of the entire health system. They claimed that lives were saved.

Nearly two years later, Spain has begun to prepare for a new COVID-19 strategy. The government, which has one of the highest vaccination rates in Europe and the most affected by pandemics, is now preparing to address the next outbreak. Similar measures are being considered in Britain and Portugal.

The goal is to shift from crisis mode to control mode and approach the virus the same way as countries who deal with measles or flu. Accepting that infections are inevitable is key. This means providing extra care for patients who have complications and those at high risk.

Pedro Sanchez, a center-left Spanish prime minister, is asking the European Union for similar changes after the explosion of the omicron version has shown that the disease's lethal potential has been reduced.

He said Monday, "What we are saying, is that we will have to think without hesitancy, according to science, and how to manage the pandemic using different parameters"

Sanchez stated that the changes must not be made before the omicron surge has ended, but officials need start planning for the post-pandemic future now: "We are doing research, anticipating scenarios."

According to the World Health Organization, it is too early to think about any immediate shift. Although the WHO does not yet have a clear definition of what constitutes COVID-19 as an endemic disease. However, experts have stated that this will occur when the virus is more predictable or there are no prolonged outbreaks.

"It's subjective because it's not about the number. It's about severity and impact," Dr. Michael Ryan, WHO's emergency chief, said.

On Monday, Dr. Anthony Fauci spoke at a World Economic Forum panel and stated that COVID-19 cannot be considered an endemic disease until it drops to "a point that it doesn’t disrupt society."

After the end of the acute phase, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control advised countries to move to routine COVID-19 handling. In a statement, the agency stated that Spain and more EU countries will be looking to implement a longer-term, sustainable surveillance strategy.

Over 80% of Spain's population have received at least two doses of vaccines. Authorities are focusing on increasing the immunity of adults by giving them third doses.

The combination of vaccine-acquired immunity and widespread infection offers the opportunity to focus prevention efforts, testing and illness tracking resources on high-risk groups. Dr. Salvador Trenche is the head of the Spanish Society of Family and Community Medicine. He has been leading the call for a new epidemic response.

Trenche stated that COVID-19 should be treated "like the rest of the illnesses," and added that normalized attention by health professionals would reduce delays in treating problems not related to coronavirus.

Tranche stated that the public must also accept the fact that COVID-19 may cause some deaths.

He stated, "We cannot do the sixth wave the same way as the first: We need to change the model if we want different results."

Although the Spanish Health Ministry stated that it was too soon to share blueprints being developed by its advisers and experts, the agency said one suggestion is to use an existing model of "sentinel monitoring" which is currently used in the EU to monitor flu.

Spanish media have given the strategy the nickname "flu-ization" COVID-19, but officials state that influenza systems will need to be significantly modified to match the coronavirus.

The discussion on moving to an endemic approach to pandemics is currently limited to rich countries that have the financial resources to talk about the worst aspects of the pandemic in the present tense. They are the envy of the developed world because they have access to strong public health systems and vaccines.

It is also unclear how an endemic strategy could coexist with the "zero Covid" approach taken by China and other Asian nations, nor how it would affect international travel.

Many countries are abandoning massive testing and reducing quarantine times due to the record-breaking number of omicron infections. This is especially true for workers with cold-like symptoms. Classes in Spanish schools have been suspended since the start of the year. They are now only closed if there is a major outbreak, and not when the first case has been reported.

Portugal has one of the highest rates of vaccination. President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa stated in a New Years speech that Portugal had "moved to an endemic stage". But, the debate over the specific measures dissolved as the spread quickly accelerated to record levels.

Hospital admissions and deaths in the vaccine-vaccinated world are still proportionally lower than they were in previous surges.

The United Kingdom will ban mask-wearing in public places, and COVID-19 passports on January 26th. Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced Wednesday that this was to stop the current wave of "peak national" incidents.

Johnson stated that he will not remove the requirement for infected persons to isolate for five days, although Johnson indicated that he would reconsider it in the coming weeks if there is more information about the virus. According to official statistics, 95% of British citizens have developed antibodies against COVID-19 from either infection or vaccination.

Johnson stated that COVID will become a widespread epidemic and Johnson suggested that legal requirements should be replaced with guidance and advice, encouraging people infected to be cautious and considerate of others.

Other European governments find the idea of normalizing COVID-19 to be contrary to their efforts in boosting vaccination among reluctant populations.

Germany is the only country where 73% or less of the population have received two doses. Infection rates in Germany are at new highs almost every day.

Andreas Deffner, spokesperson for the Health Ministry, stated Monday that there are still too many people who have not been vaccinated, especially among older citizens.

Italy has extended its vaccination mandate to all citizens over 50 years old and is now imposing fines up to 1,500 Euro on unvaccinated workers who show up at work. To be able to travel by public transport, planes and hotels, as well as to use gyms, hotels, trade fairs, or to receive any other services, all Italians must be fully vaccinated.

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