Europe risks a critical labor shortage as the Omicron coronavirus variant spikes across the block and infected and persecuted people cower in isolation.
As countries reintroduce containment measures like mask requirements in Paris to contain infection and protect hospitals, they are also rethinking isolation rules to manage infection risks while mitigating the impact of deadlocked vital services and the economic impact.
Greece is the first country in Europe to announce that it is moving to an all-time low of five days of quarantine for infected people, halving the time from 10 days before, the government said on Thursday.
The Mediterranean country is keeping pace with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which this week also announced a new five-day isolation period for infected asymptomatic individuals.
Elsewhere in Europe the UK moved to a seven days of isolation for infected people just before Christmas. Spain and Ireland have cut their isolation times from 10 to seven days, while Italy has just lifted quarantine on close contacts when a person is vaccinated.
Widespread vaccinations have helped reduce the transmission and severity of the disease. But if Omicron is proving to be even more contagious than previous flavors, why are countries moving to shorter quarantine times and will they be enough to contain the fourth wave?
How long have you been contagious with the coronavirus?
The answer seems to depend on whether or not you are vaccinated.
A recent US study analyzed how long people were contagious with coronavirus and found that the average time to clear their infection was 5.5 days for those who were vaccinated, while it was 7.5 days for those who were not vaccinated.
But the to learn, which was not peer-reviewed, examined the infectivity of the questionable alpha and delta variants and was carried out before Omicron was dominant.
When it announced the postponement of quarantine for infected people from 10 to seven days, the UK health authority said the move was based on its own analysis, which suggests that a seven-day isolation period alongside two negative results from the lateral flow test would provide “almost the same protection” has an effect ”as a 10-day isolation period without an antigen test for people with COVID-19.
In the US, the CDC also said that the five-day postponement would “scientifically motivatedIt pointed to data showing that the majority of coronavirus transmissions occur in the first two days before symptoms start and up to three days after.
Meanwhile, Greece pointed to preliminary data suggesting that the Omicron infection could be not only milder but also shorter, allowing for a shorter quarantine period.
What are the conditions for release from quarantine?
Each country has a different approach.
The UK has only opted for a conditional quarantine release on day seven if people test negative on days six and seven with a lateral flow test.
Greece, on the other hand, follows the US CDC in adopting the so-called five-plus-five rule: five days of home quarantine followed by five days of wearing masks if the symptoms have disappeared.
But some scientists have opposed reducing isolation times without testing for release. “If a test request is not taken, there will be many infectious people in the workforce who will pass the virus on to others – further increasing the risks to public health and likely economic disruption.” tweeted Saad Omer, director of the Yale Institute for Global Health.
In the meantime, some countries have completely stopped quarantine on close contacts, including the UK and Italy, and have instead switched to different testing requirements and isolation when people test positive.
Why do countries do this?
With infection rates skyrocketing in Europe, especially in the last week, countries are looking for tools that can keep hospitals and key public services running while limiting the spread of the virus
It peaked in the UK, which has recorded over 100,000 cases daily since December 22nd over 189,846 on Friday, London suburban trains were Canceled due to the absence of staff with COVID-19, while hospitals are under immense pressure due to the labor shortage and increasing COVID-19 patients.
In England on December 26th, 24,632 hospital workers were absent due to COVID-19 illness or self-isolation, according to NHS England Data Published Friday.
The UK health security agency said the reduced quarantine period was based in part on the need to protect vital services and supply chains over the winter.
In Greece the Ministry of Health said Hospitals were already overflowing with Delta cases when Omicron arrived. The country is now confronted with record infection numbers, with Omicron now the dominant variant and accounting for more than 60 percent of the cases.
Meanwhile, US CDC boss Rochelle Walensky accepted that the agency’s decision to change the recommended length of isolation “really had a lot to do with what we thought people would be able to tolerate”. She told local media that fewer than a third of people followed isolation instructions during the pandemic.