Europe is at risk of a labor shortage as Omicron continues to spread, and infected people and those they come in contact with are quarantined. Due to the lack of staff and the collapse of the turnover, many businesses are already shutting down.

In this context, some states have begun to re-evaluate the rules, shortening the isolation period.

The United Kingdom, Spain, Ireland and Greece have made such decisions, trying risky juggling: managing the risk of infection and, at the same time, mitigating the impact of the restrictions on the economy.

The shorter the quarantine period

Greece was the first European country to announce a reduction in quarantine to five days for those who tested positive. The decision, announced on December 30 by the government in Athens, basically involves a halving of the quarantine period, which until now was ten days.

The Mediterranean country is following the recommendations of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which recently announced a five-day shortening of the quarantine period for infected people who are asymptomatic.

Before Christmas, the United Kingdom also had a quarantine period of seven days for those tested positive for coronavirus. This is despite the fact that in the UK the new strain has already become dominant and the number of daily infections has greatly increased.

In Spain and Ireland, too, the period has been reduced from ten to seven days, while Italy has given up quarantining people considered close contacts with a positive case if they are vaccinated.

These decisions relate to the period of infection of an infected person, the length of which depends on whether or not that person has been immunized against COVID.

The results of a recent American study show that in the case of those vaccinated, the period of contagion is 5.5 days, while non-vaccinated people can transmit the infection for 7.5 days. The research has not yet been reviewed by other experts and focuses on cases of Alpha and Delta infections, being done before Omicron became dominant in the US.

Specialist explanations

Announcing the shortening of the quarantine period, the UK Health Safety Agency said the decision was based on its own analysis, which suggests that seven days of quarantine with two tests with negative results “have almost the same protective effect” as ten days. isolation without antigen testing of the person diagnosed with COVID-19.

For their part, US experts say the decision to move to five days of quarantine is “scientifically motivated”, with data showing that SARS-CoV-2 is transmitted most intensely between the first two days before the onset of symptoms and up to three days later.

Experts in Greece have justified their decision based on a series of preliminary data showing that Omicron causes milder forms of the disease, which manifest itself for a shorter period of time, thus reducing the number of quarantine days.

Each country has its own quarantine exit conditions

As for the conditions of exit from quarantine, each country has its own approach.

In the United Kingdom, the quarantine period ends after one week if the infected person is tested negative on the sixth and seventh days.

On the other hand, in Greece it adopts the 5 + 5 rule, ie the five days of quarantine are followed by another five in which the patient must wear a mask if the symptoms have disappeared.

However, some scientists dispute the shortening of the quarantine period without testing at the end of it.

If the testing requirement is not included, it means that there will still be a lot of contagious people who return to work and can transmit the virus to others, which can further affect public health and the economy.

Saad Omer, director of the Yale Institute for Global Health:

The crisis in the hospital workforce and the reduced impact on the economy have led to the decision to reduce the quarantine period.

Faced with an accelerating rise in infection rates in recent weeks, European countries are looking for ways to keep essential hospitals and public services running, while limiting the spread of the virus.

As of December 22, the United Kingdom has reported more than 100,000 cases a day, reaching nearly 190,000 new infections on December 31. One consequence was that the trains used by London commuters were canceled due to the absence of staff with COVID. At the same time, hospitals are under enormous pressure due to a lack of manpower and an increase in the number of patients.

In England, on December 26, 24,632 health workers lost their jobs due to illness or self-isolation, according to data released on Friday by NHS England.

The UK Health Security Agency explained that the quarantine period had been reduced due to the need to protect vital services and supply chains during the winter.

In Greece, the Ministry of Health said that at the time of Omicron’s appearance, hospitals were already overcrowded due to Delta cases. Meanwhile, the new strain has become dominant in the Greek state, accounting for over 60% of cases.

Meanwhile, CDC chief Rochelle Walensky admitted that the agency’s decision to change the recommended quarantine period “had a lot to do with what I thought people would be able to tolerate,” adding that from the beginning During the pandemic, less than a third of people complied with the quarantine instructions.

Photo: Profimedia

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