World: Omicron raises hopes for brewers

While infection rates with the corona virus are nearly everywhere at their highest level since the beginning of the pandemic, the new Omicron variant raises hopes for brewers. There is some evidence that the tough measures to limit contact and thus also the multiple restrictions on alcohol consumption in many countries may come soon to an end.

In fact, many countries have already lifted restrictions, including reduced opening hours in restaurants or bans on consuming alcoholic beverages in public.

The pioneer in this regard was probably South Africa, where the Omicron variant first appeared at the end of last November, and which was therefore the first to feel the effects of the new virus. However, instead of imposing new restrictions, the southernmost country in Africa lifted all restrictions. Shortly before New Year's Eve, the night curfew that had been in place for almost two years was lifted along with other restrictions. "Omicron has reached its peak," explained the responsible Minister Mondli Gungubele. There has been neither an alarming change in the number of hospital admissions nor in the number of deaths, he argued. Since its peak on December 15, the number of reported positive COVID cases in South Africa was reduced from 26,389 to 1,332 last Monday.

Similar the situation in the UK where reported positive COVID have been reduced are actually only one third (74,800 on Ja. 23) compared to three weeks ago (218,705 on Jan. 4). Consequently, the parliament dropped England's so-called Plan B measures last week, with mandatory face coverings in public places and mandatory COVID passports for entering nightclubs and large events both dropped.

Curfews and restrictions on pubs and restaurants had already been largely lifted before the last COVID wave. Nevertheless, the industry recorded another drop in sales, especially in December, as a large part of the population voluntarily restricted their visits to restaurants and pubs.

Infections levels, while already falling in many countries, are still well above what they were last winter. However, hospital admissions appear to be decreasing what gives justification enough for many governments to lift the strict COVID measures. The trade-off between the costs of COVID restrictions and the benefits clearly points to an opening up of the economy. Many scientists believe that the pandemic is now about to become endemic, with the effect that we must now learn how to lead normal lives again.

Consequently, Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez proposed treating Covid-19 in a similar way to flu. This step is "timely and necessary," says also his Health Minister Carolina Darias.

In the Netherlands, despite the still high infection rates, restaurants, pubs, theatres, museums and cinemas are allowed to open again after more than five weeks - daily until 10 p.m. A limited number of spectators are also allowed in football stadiums again. The renewed lockdown, which has been in effect since December 19, has led to a lot of dissatisfaction in the country. In some Dutch cities, cafes opened despite the ban. Restrictions in public life such as the obligation to wear masks or the Corona passport, with which visitors have to prove that they have been tested, vaccinated or recovered, remain in place.

There are only a few countries that still apply strict rules and they are expected to ease them once a stable or decreasing trend in hospital bed occupancy becomes apparent.

Last week, the Austrian parliament was one of the first governments in the world to make COVID vaccination compulsory from the age of 18. Pubs, restaurants, shops and cultural events may only be visited by people who have been fully vaccinated or have already recovered from an infection. There is still a general curfew at 10 p.m., and night and stand-up catering is still prohibited.

However, even here, Wolfgang Mückstein, the Austrian health minister, said today that Covid rules for unvaccinated people would end next week, based on guidance from health advisers that hospitals and intensive care units in the country are becoming less burdened even as virus cases rise.

Germany, which has come through the pandemic quite well so far, is not yet looking to relax its strict COVID regulations. The new Health Minister Karl Lauterbach, who has been praised for his expertise on the one hand, but is also known for his very strict and patronizing statements, on the other hand, continues to rely on strict measures. Still, pubs and restaurants are open for all vaccinated and recovered people. But people continue to be reluctant to go out because politicians still warn of high infection rates and recommend social distancing.

Increasingly, there are voices saying a curfew and corresponding subsidies like last year would be better for restaurants and pubs instead of empty restaurants and letting the costs pile up without the corresponding income.

Now, Omicron is giving all of them hope for a normal life like before the pandemic. There is a fair chance for it as long as there is no new variant that mixes the infection rate of the Omicron variant with the lethality of the Delta variant...

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