The Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said on Monday it may be time to track the pandemic differently as COVID-19’s lethality has fallen, confirming reports that the government was mulling alternative monitoring methods.
It comes as Covid-weary Europeans stage angry protests across the bloc as backlash grows over draconian restrictions.
Mr Sanchez told radio station Cadena SER: “We have the conditions to gradually, with precaution, open the debate at a technical level and European level, to start evaluating the evolution of this disease with different parameters than we have until now.”
The Spanish government is considering changing how it tracks the pandemic’s evolution to instead use a method similar to how it follows the flu, without recording every case and without testing all people presenting symptoms.
The Spanish leader is also pushing for the whole of the European Union to follow the lead, already championed by the UK government last week.
He added: “It is a debate that we are already trying to open at the EU level; the Minister of Health (Carolina Darias) has raised it with various European health ministers.”
Last week, Michael Gove warned “difficult weeks” still lie ahead but insisted the UK is close to the point where it can “live with Covid”.
The Housing Secretary said: “We are moving to a situation where it is possible to say we can live with Covid, and that the pressure on the NHS and on vital public services is abating.”
The Cabinet Minister said England has one of the “most open regimes” of any European country.
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He added: “One of the things we do need to think about is how we live with Covid, how we live with this particular type of coronavirus.
“There are other Coronaviruses which are endemic and with which we live. Viruses tend to develop in a way whereby they become less harmful but more widespread.
“So, guided by the science, we can look to the progressive lifting of restrictions, and, for all of us, the sooner the better.
“But we’ve got to keep the NHS safe.”
Graham Medley, professor of infectious disease modelling at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said Covid cannot be treated as “an emergency forever” but it is more likely to phase out rather than be “declared over”.
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He added: “At some point it will have to stop being an emergency. It’s going to fade out and disappear.”
But Dr David Nabarro, the World Health Organisation’s special envoy on COVID-19, said the virus is going to pose a very difficult situation for three more months “at least” but added: “We can see the end in sight.”
He continued: “This virus is continuing to evolve ‑ we have Omicron but we’ll get more variants. And, whilst health services in Western Europe are just about coping, in many other parts of the world, they are completely overwhelmed.
“It’s clear there’s no scope for major restrictions in any country, particularly poor countries. People have got to keep working. There are some tough choices for politicians.”