How other countries coped when they relaxed Coronavirus restrictions

·4-min read
A teenager reacts while receiving a dose of a vaccine against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at a Clalit healthcare maintenance organisation in Tel Aviv, Israel (REUTERS)
A teenager reacts while receiving a dose of a vaccine against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at a Clalit healthcare maintenance organisation in Tel Aviv, Israel (REUTERS)

England is preparing for a lift of nearly all restrictions imposed on the public to thwart the coronavirus on 19 July.

UK prime minister Boris Johnson has admitted that cases of Covid-19 are rising “significantly”, sparking questions over whether the government has thoroughly thought through the consequences facing other nations after they removed the covid-19 restrictions.

Mr Johnson though has said the government would “stick to our plan to lift legal restrictions and to lift social distancing”.

Face masks will no longer be compulsory in some cases and the government instruction to work from home will be relaxed.

The prime minister was careful to couch his remarks by warning the public that the arrival of “Freedom Day” next week is only possible because of the success of the vaccine rollout and by begging individuals to get their jab and to exercise caution to prevent the reinstatement of lockdown measures becoming necessary.

Despite the government’s strong emphasis on the vaccine rollout as the catalyst for removing almost all the restrictions, other countries had gone down this path before the UK and failed. Here is what happened to other countries after their decision to do the same:

The United Arab Emirates

Although it has officially become the most vaccinated nation globally this month, the United Arab Emirates still sees high infection rates. Cases hovered around 1,500 this week, unveiling the Gulf country’s inability to put a lid on the relatively high number of cases.

Most Covid-19 rules have been relaxed across the UAE, with gatherings and events allowed. Public events and exhibitions are open to only fully vaccinated residents. But residents are still required to wear face coverings and maintain some form of social distancing.

Nearly 75 per cent of the UAE’s 9.7 million population has had at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine. Despite the high infections, the number of deaths due to covid-19 has plummeted dramatically.

The UAE has largely depended on the Chinese Sinopharm vaccines but said in June it would offer a booster shot six months after the second shot had been administered.

The Netherlands

The Netherlands government decided on 26 June to ease restrictions on face masks and nightclubs. The Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte had repeatedly defended the easing of restrictions, calling it a “logical step”. But after his decision, coronavirus infections surged twelvefold to their highest levels in a year: from just 806 cases a day on 1 July, and they reached 3,646 on 7 July and 10,345 on 10 July.

Under fierce criticism from the public and political pressure, Mr Rutte apologised for his “poor judgement”, promising a humbling U-turn.

The Dutch government announced that all restaurants and bars must be closed from midnight to 6 am from 10 July until 13 August. Nightclubs have also been closed again, and live performances and loud music are prohibited.

Seychelles

The archipelago country is the second most vaccinated nation in the world. More than 71 per cent of the country’s 97,000 population has received at least a first dose of the vaccine.

In March, the government decided to ease the covid-19 restrictions by allowing restaurants to reopen and pushing the nightly curfew to later hours. It also permitted Gyms and spas to reopen and shops to welcome customers on weekends.

However, after this rushed reopening of its economy, which relies heavily on tourism, the total number of cases reached around 17,000 by the end of June, with the Delta variant spreading quickly since early May.

Death and hospital admissions remained low due to an active inoculation campaign using Sinopharm, the Russian Sputnik and the AstraZeneca vaccines.

Israel

Israel has been referred to as an example of a fast vaccine rollout programme. In June, the government decided to allow restaurants, shops, cinemas and hotels to open their doors to the public, believing that the country has managed to defeat the virus. People stopped wearing face masks, and reports said social distancing rules had been mostly ignored.

But, with the Delta variant rampage, cases started to rise again, reaching more than 750 this week, while hospitalisation and death remained relatively low. This new spike in cases forced prime minister Naftali Bennett to reimpose some COVID-19 restrictions and rethink strategy. He proposed a policy called “soft suppression”, which aims at teaching Israelis to live with the virus to avoid imposing a fourth lockdown.

Uruguay

Uruguay was another country pointed at as a successful example in containing the coronavirus spread. Throughout all of last year, the country of 3.4 million recorded only about 19,100 cases and 180 deaths.

But this year, Uruguay is offering a different tale. Local health authorities in June said they have already reported more than 341,000 infections and 5,100 deaths this year. The peak happened at the beginning of this year after the government decided to relax covid’s legal restrictions such as hand hygiene, masks and social distancing.

Shops and restaurants and public venues were also allowed to open, reflecting an ease feeling based on previous success in containing the virus. However, the government decided to bring back most of the restrictions it had removed, especially with the spread of new variants around Latin America.

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