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People wearing facemasks while walking near the Arc de Triomphe Alamy Stock Photo

'We can live with a high level of infections': How Europe is easing Covid-19 restrictions

While Covid-19 restrictions have been eased in Ireland, what are other European countries doing?

MORE COUNTRIES ACROSS Europe are beginning to reopen following the emergence of the Omicron variant late last year, after many reintroduced restrictions following concerns about the new variant. 

Ireland eased it’s Covid-19 restrictions in late January, with social distancing measures being scrapped, limits on household visitors lifted and hospitality being able to reopen at full capacity.

While masks still remain mandatory in some settings, including on public transport, in shops and in schools, with the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) set to review the measures on 17 February.

Speaking at the Joint Committee on Health yesterday, Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan said that Ireland is in a positive position with Covid-19, but that the global public health risk does remain high.

“In advising that social and economic restrictions could be removed, the NPHET stressed that the pandemic is not over and that with a significant level of infection nationally, Covid-19 still poses a risk to public health,” Holohan said.

In this regard, there will be an ongoing need to retain some public health measures to reduce risk. Protective measures should remain in place in primary and secondary schools, masks should continue to be worn in all settings where currently regulated for, and we must continue to encourage everyone to complete their primary and booster programmes of vaccination.

With some restrictions still remaining in place in Ireland for now, what are other European countries doing around lifting restrictions?


In Denmark, there has been the most significant easing of restrictions by any European country at present, with all domestic Covid-19 measures being lifted by the Danish Government.

Restrictions were dropped on Tuesday, with facemasks and health passes no longer being required across the country, except in very limited circumstances around hospital visits, with restrictions on opening hours for bars and restaurants also being removed.

Light restrictions on international travel has remained, in particular for unvaccinated travellers coming from outside the EU’s Schengen Area.

Currently, the Danish Health Authority has recommended that positive cases should isolate for four days, while close contacts no longer need to isolate.

While restrictions have been eased across the country, there are between 40,000 and 50,000 confirmed cases of Covid-19 being confirmed every day in the country, with a total population of 5.8 million.

Health officials in the country have said that they expect these figures to begin dropping soon, however.

Over 60% of the population in Denmark has received a booster vaccine, compared to an EU average of 45%.

Due to this, as well as estimates on the number of Danes who have recently had Covid-19, health authorities have estimated that 80% of the population is protected against severe disease from the virus.

Polling published on Monday by Politiken, a Danish newspaper, suggests that a majority of Danes agree with their Government’s move to remove all domestic Covid-19 restrictions, with 64% saying they have faith in the government’s Covid-19 policy

Denmark had previously attempted to remove all it’s Covid-19 restrictions on 10 September last year, but were forced to reintroduce measures later in November, with cinemas, theatres and concert venues being closed over Christmas and New Years.

While the Government has said it does not expect to roll back measures, they will remain cautious.

“We can’t provide any guarantees when it comes to biology,” Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said last week, announcing the country’s return “to life as we knew it before corona”.


Yesterday, France moved to loosen restrictions that were implemented to reduce the spread of Omicron.

Measures like the Covid-19 health pass are slated to remain in place but will now require either proof of a booster vaccine or recovery from Covid-19, with negative tests no longer being accepted.

The pass will be required for bars, restaurants, cinemas and long-distance public transport.

Facemasks will also no longer be mandatory while outdoors, and limits on capacity within theatres, cinemas, sporting and other events have been lifted.

Working from home measures, while still recommended, are no longer required for workers.

The French Government have also said that an additional easing of restrictions will take place on 16 February, with nightclubs set to reopen. Standing at bars, concerts and sporting events will also be allowed again.

French President Emmanuel Macron also suggested in a recent interview that there is potential for rules around masking in schools to be relaxed, with some suggestion that it would be after the February winter break.

While the Omicron variant is much more transmissible than previous variants, French authorities view it as less dangerous than other strains.

In the last seven days, there have been an average of 322,256 cases of the virus being reported each day, which is a drop from the previous weeks’ average of 366,179.

United Kingdom

Restrictions were lifted late last month in the UK, with legal measures that required masks to be worn indoors and that enabled Covid-19 passes being dropped.

The removal of ‘Plan B’ measures took place on 27 January.

UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson said that the restrictions implemented due to Omicron could be lifted due to the success of the booster programme.

However, he did urge people to get vaccinated and warned that the pandemic is still ongoing.

“The pandemic is not over. Everyone should remain cautious.”

On the 27th, vaccine passes, which were required to enter into nightclubs, football matches and other high capacity events, were scrapped alongside the requirements to work from home.

Face masks had also been required in all enclosed spaces, but these regulations have been dropped.

Restrictions were initially relaxed in the UK on 19 July in 2021, but were reintroduced due to Omicron in early December.

The Netherlands

In the Netherlands, restrictions have been eased after a harsh lockdown that was implemented in late December.

Bars, restaurants and museums were allowed to reopen from 25 January, with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte saying “The Netherlands has missed you”.

There were protests after Dutch shops, gyms, hairdressers and sex workers were allowed to return to work on 15 January, but other venues remained closed, with some cafes reopening in defiance of restrictions.

While other hospitality venues are able to open, nightclubs are to remain shut for the time being.

The country’s Covid pass is also still in effect, with capacity being reduced in venues and masks required to be worn while not sitting at a table.

Fans are also able to return to football matches and other sporting events, but stadium capacity will be limited.

All current measures in the Netherlands are set to remain in place until 8 March.


In Austria, Covid-19 vaccines are set to become mandatory from next week as the country ended the lockdown for unvaccinated people last week

It will be the first EU country to mandate Covid-19 vaccines in the general public.

The government initially began the unvaccinated lockdown in November, ordering those who were unvaccinated or who had not recovered from Covid-19 to stay home due to rising cases of the virus.

There were some limited exceptions, including to go to work.

The order was officially stood down on Friday, 28 January.

However, the unvaccinated will still face some restrictions, with Covid-19 passes required to access restaurants, hotels, cultural and sporting venues.


On Tuesday, the Norwegian Government announced that they would scrap a majority of their Covid-19 restrictions, despite rising case numbers of the Omicron variant.

“We have finally reached the point where we can lift lots of the health measures we have had to live with this winter,” said Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store.

“We are going to have to live with a high level of infections – we can live with a high level of infections.”

The new measures came into effect at 11pm local time on Tuesday.

Periods of self-isolation for confirmed cases have been reduced from six days to four, with close contacts no longer needed to restrict their movements, although they are advised to use antigen tests daily.

Restrictions around sale of alcohol in bars and restaurants are also set to end, while masks will remain mandatory on public transport and shops.


In Russia, there are no plans to introduce new restrictions to tackle a surge in Covid-19 cases, according to a senior health official.

“The healthcare system is coping,” Anna Popova, the head of Russia’s federal health regulator, told state-run news agency RIA Novosti in an interview published on Wednesday.

Officials reported a record 141,883 new cases of Covid-19 in Russia in a single day yesterday, an increase from the 33,899 cases that were reported on 19 January.

- Additional reporting by AFP

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