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Covid-19 rules: What happens when countries ease restrictions?

Covid-19 rules: What happens when countries ease restrictions? thumbnail

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image captionIsraelis ditched face masks in June

It means all legal restrictions on social contact will be removed. The legal requirement to wear face masks in some public spaces will be dropped, nightclubs will be allowed to reopen, and limits on how many people can meet will be ditched.

Several countries around the world have already tried easing their coronavirus restrictions this year – with mixed results.

So what has happened in places where rules have been relaxed?

Israel

By mid-June – when well over half the population had been double-jabbed – Israelis stopped wearing masks and pre-pandemic life returned, with shops, restaurants, hotels and cinemas all fully open.

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image captionIsrael reopened bars and restaurants in March

Since then confirmed daily cases – driven by the more infectious Delta variant – have risen steadily, reaching a four-month peak of 754 on Tuesday. Though officials say serious cases, including the number of people being hospitalised, remain relatively low.

The surge in cases, however, has prompted new Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s government into a partial rethink.

Under what it calls a “soft suppression” approach, Israelis will be asked to learn to live with Covid.

The Netherlands

With vaccinations rising and cases dropping, the Netherlands pushed ahead with its reopening in late June. Face masks were abandoned in almost all places and young people were encouraged to go out again.

Since then, cases have soared, jumping to their highest levels since December – although the relaxation has not led to a notable rise in hospital admissions.

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image captionThe Netherlands has been forced to backtrack on its easing

As criticism from health officials grew louder, Prime Minister Mark Rutte was forced into an embarrassing U-turn on Friday and re-imposed many restrictions, just three weeks after the measures were lifted.

Bars and nightclubs were forced to shut again, as Mr Rutte apologised for his “poor judgement”.

“What we thought would be possible, turned out not to be possible in practice,” he admitted.

South Korea

Hailed as a success story in its handling of Covid-19, South Korea was one of the first East Asian countries to chart a path out of the pandemic.

In June it announced plans to allow vaccinated people to go mask-free outdoors, permit small private gatherings and relax restaurant opening times.

But experts warned South Korea was dropping its guard against the coronavirus too soon, with the majority of the population still unvaccinated.

Now it is facing its worst-ever coronavirus outbreak.

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image captionSouth Koreans have been asked to wear masks again

A record-breaking daily tally of cases has forced the government to tighten social-distancing rules across most of the country. In the capital, Seoul, residents have been banned from meeting more than one other person after 18:00.

With the Delta variant spreading fast and its vaccination rate slowing, public confidence in South Korea’s ability to cope with coronavirus has taken a knock.

Sweden

Unlike most countries, Sweden has relied mainly on voluntary measures to stem the spread of infections, though curbs on opening hours for restaurants and limits on crowds at venues have also been implemented.

Some of those restrictions have already been loosened, with 3,000 seated spectators allowed at sports stadiums and the rules on opening hours scrapped on 1 July. More restrictions are being scrapped on 15 July.

Since the spring, cases have continued to fall steeply, something credited to rising vaccinations and warmer weather, meaning people are spending more time outdoors.

But amid worries about the rise of the Delta variant, most travellers returning to Sweden will need to be tested for Covid-19.

Australia

In mid-June, life had returned to relative normality in Sydney, where no locally contracted infections had been reported in more than a month. Elsewhere, restrictions were being eased across parts of Australia, which has a policy of trying to eliminate the virus.

In late June, Australia’s largest city entered lockdown as officials tried to prevent the spread of the Delta strain. On Wednesday the lockdown was extended for at least another two weeks as the state of New South Wales recorded nearly 100 new cases in one day.

media captionSydney extends lockdown to fight Delta outbreak

Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory all imposed snap lockdowns after a handful of people were infected.

Most of the lockdowns were lifted by this weekend but other restrictions, such as mandatory mask-wearing, remain in place.

With more than 90% of the population unvaccinated, officials say any path to normality will take some time.

A lack of supplies, specifically of the Pfizer vaccine, means many Australians will not be able to get a jab until the final months of the year.

US

As the Joe Biden administration forged ahead in its vaccine drive, many states began lifting restrictions, ditching mask mandates and allowing businesses to reopen.

In June, California – the US’s most populous state – announced its “grand reopening”, while New York lifted nearly all restrictions as its vaccination rate passed 70%.

media captionShould you wear a mask outdoors? Hear what Americans say after new CDC guidance.

Overall, cases have remained low. New infections are less than one-tenth of the average daily rate at the height of the pandemic in January, even as they have doubled in the last two weeks.

But there are growing concerns about the more infectious Delta variant that has been surging in some under-vaccinated states. As the vaccine rate slows, some states are recommending residents keep wearing masks because of worries over the more infectious strain.

In New York City, cases have jumped by almost a third in a week, with the highest rises in neighbourhoods with the lowest vaccine rates.

Deaths are creeping up, but not as sharply as cases. State officials say the overwhelming majority of people now hospitalised with Covid-19 are unvaccinated.

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