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Omicron: How different countries are curbing the surge

Beatrice Christofaro
January 3, 2022

Boosters, lockdown, laissez faire — here's a look at how countries around the world are reacting to the omicron variant.

A pair of feet standing in front of a text on a pavement reading "Omikron"
As the world rings in a new year, it is also bracing for the omicron variantImage: Michael Bihlmayer/CHROMORANGE/picture alliance

As the world enters 2022, its third year living with the coronavirus, many countries are facing case surges caused by the more transmissible omicron variant. 

Here are the precautions different nations are taking.

Boosters in Israel

One of the early frontrunners in the COVID-19 vaccination rollout, Israel is betting on jabs again. It is the first country to broadly offer a fourth shot to counter the omicron wave. 

At first, only the immunocompromised were to receive an additional booster, but people over 60 and medical staff are also eligible as of Sunday.

Last year, Israel was the first country to offer booster shots before other countries followed suit. Now, new data on the efficacy of the fourth dose will prove valuable to other nations as well. 

An Israeli man receives a booster vaccine as part of a trial in Tel Aviv
Israel is rolling out additional boster shots to some of its populationImage: Ronen Zvulun/REUTERS

Lockdowns in The Netherlands and Austria

To curb the omicron surge, the Netherlands imposed a nationwide lockdown in December. All non-essential businesses are shut until January 14 while schools will remain closed until January 9.

The measures, which also affected holiday celebrations, have proven unpopular. In the most recent protest on Sunday, thousands in Amsterdam defied an assembly ban to march against the lockdown.

In November, Austria also enforced a national lockdown for three weeks, successfully breaking a surge in COVID-19 cases. Now most regions only apply the measures to unvaccinated people who are only allowed to leave the house for essential activities like grocery shopping or doctor’s visits.

A crowd of protesters gathers in Amsterdam, Netherlands
Thousands protested against lockdown measures in the Netherlands on SundayImage: Piroschka van de Wouw/REUTERS

Tighter entry requirements in Japan and Thailand

While Asian countries have mostly been able to keep omicron at bay, many are gearing up for a potential increase. India has seen a significant surge in recent days. As soon as the first cases of the variant were detected, governments like Japan and Thailand reinstated travel measures in recent weeks. 

For Japan, which has some of the strictest requirements, that means most foreigners are banned from entering. In Thailand, whose tourism sector took a beating during the pandemic, foreigners are still allowed to enter, but must quarantine. A "Test & Go" program has been temporarily suspended.

Quarantine squabbles in Germany

Germany's fight against the omicron variant

Shortly after the Christmas festivities, Germany braced for a possible omicron wave by introducing new restrictions on private gatherings and prohibiting large events. 

However, the government is debating if it should shorten the 14-day quarantine period for people who tested positive for COVID-19 or were exposed. Experts have said they are concerned about burdening essential infrastructure, like the healthcare sector, or police and fire services, if too many people have to isolate at the same time.

Germany would be following the example of France and Spain which reduced the isolation period from 10 to seven days. In France, this adjustment only applies to vaccinated people, however. They can shorten their quarantine to five days if they receive a negative PCR test. 

People wait in a long line to get tested at Times Square in New York
The surge of omicron cases has caused long lines at COVID testing facilities in the USImage: Wang Ying/Xinhua/imago images

Confusing messages in the US

While Germany debates shortening the isolation period, the US' Center for Disease Control (CDC) is revising if its quarantine period should be longer. 

Right now those infected or exposed to the virus only have to isolate for five days — a decision that received major pushback. Critics say this guidance prioritizes employees' productivity over their health and could lead to people going back into the workforce while they are still contagious.

The omicron surge has also exposed the test shortage, which President Joe Biden has pledged to rectify. 

Edited by: Rob Mudge