Covid: What lessons can England learn from countries forced to scale back new freedoms?

People enjoy a drink Amsterdam Credit: PA

Many remaining Covid restrictions were scraped in England on Monday on what has been dubbed 'freedom day'.

England is not the first country to ease lockdown measures in an attempt at return to a pre-pandemic normality.

But some of those countries that ripped up the coronavirus rulebook are now reversing those decisions and bringing back previously - and arguably hastily - abandoned guidance.

What lessons can England learn from other countries that thought they had put legal Covid rules behind them?

Israel

Israel led the world in getting vaccines into people's arms.

Such was the success of its vaccination programme, that Israelis threw off the face coverings and embraced.

But this week Prime Minister Naftali Bennett urged people to once again wear their masks indoors and "stop kissing and hugging" - or face another national lockdown - as cases surge.

The police have been instructed to step up enforcement of the mask rule with high fines for people who violate it.

“That’s the fair thing to do, because it’s wrong to have people who are lazy and hurt the rest of the public,” Mr Bennett has said.

A national shutdown, he said, was “a last resort,” a reflection of the government’s effort to keep Israel’s economy strong.

“Stop shaking hands,” he advised Israelis.

“Stop kissing and hugging except within the family.”

Beach volleyball on one of Tel Aviv’s beaches Credit: Adam Davy/PA

He also urged Israelis not to travel abroad as the Delta variant spreads in Europe and elsewhere.

More than 5.7 million people of Israel’s population of 9.3 million have been vaccinated at least once. Some 5.2 million people have received two doses.

Most coronavirus cases in the country are mild and serious cases remain relatively low — but almost all new cases are due to the contagious Delta variant.

Iceland

Iceland became the first European country to lift all domestic coronavirus restrictions following the success of its vaccination programme.

From June 26, there were no longer any limits on gatherings, and measures including social distancing and mask wearing were also scrapped.

The government says 87% of Icelanders have received their first dose of a coronavirus vaccine and the country of 360,000 people has an infection incidence of just 1.6 per 100,000 inhabitants on a two-week average.

The study was carried out in Iceland's capital, Reykjavik Credit: PA

Only 30 people have died out of a total of 6,637 infections.

But five new infections were reported this week, linked to large friend and family gatherings and nightlife. Contact tracing is ongoing and authorities expect over 100 people to be placed in quarantine as a result of the infections.

People were asked to be "cautious" following the cases. 

Netherlands

Coronavirus infections in the Netherlands soared by more than 500% over the last week. The surge follows the scrapping of almost all remaining lockdown restrictions and the reopening of night clubs in late June.

In response, some restrictions were reintroduced in an attempt to rein in the rising infection rate. Bars again have to close at midnight, while clubs were closed once more until at least August 13.

Many restrictions were lifted in the Netherlands - only to return. Credit: AP

More than 1,000 festivalgoers tested positive for coronavirus after attending a 20,000-person event in Utrecht on the first weekend of July.

The house music festival was a so-called test-for-entry event, meaning that visitors were allowed in only if they could present a QR code that showed they had been vaccinated, held a negative coronavirus test or had had Covid-19 recently

Dutch caretaker Prime Minister Mark Rutte apologised for his government's quick relaxation of measures against the pandemic.

“What we thought was possible in practice turned out to be wrong after all,” he said on Monday.

"We made an error of judgment there, we regret that and apologise for that."

The number of coronavirus cases jumped fivefold over the past week in the Netherlands, with 51,957 cases registered last week compared with 8,541 positive tests the previous week.

Chile

Chile has one of the world's highest vaccination rates with around 75% of its 15 million residents having already received at least one dose of vaccine. Nearly 58% are fully inoculated.

But vaccines have failed to stem a second wave in the country. Chile's capital Santiago was put on lockdown in June following some of the highest Covid case numbers since the pandemic began, to ease the burden on hospitals, most of which are at or near capacity.

Critics said the government relied too heavily on the vaccination programme and opened up too quickly, first in late 2020 and then in May.

A vaccination centre in Chile. Credit: AP

Chilean health authorities said they would extend a Covid emergency measures through to September with limits on gatherings.

In May, Chile introduced green cards to allow greater freedom for those who have been fully vaccinated.