EU, Turkey, Albania curbs end as WHO warns

·4-min read

Coronavirus curbs are ending in Albania and Turkey while the European Union is considering declaring a post-emergency phase of the pandemic but the World Health Organisation says the globe lacks vital data as testing rates decline.

Albanian authorities said on Tuesday that all remaining coronavirus-related measures will end in the country as of May 1.

The decision means masks no longer will be required indoors and nightclubs will not be subject to an 11pm curfew.

Proof of vaccination or a negative PCR test for the virus will not be needed at border crossings.

Authorities urged residents to continue getting vaccinated against COVID-19, with 60 per cent of Albania's 2.8 million people having received two vaccine doses while 12.4 per cent have had a third dose.

Authorities have encouraged people older than age 60 to get a fourth shot.

Albania has reported a significant drop in new daily cases.

Since the start of the pandemic, the health ministry has reported 275,000 confirmed cases and 3496 virus-related deaths

Turkey on Tuesday aslo lifted one of its last remaining COVID-19 restrictions, the wearing of masks in crowded indoor locations.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced the relaxation in a televised meeting of the scientific board that has guided Turkey through two years of the pandemic.

He said the board would not reconvene unless "extraordinary" circumstances arose.

"The obligation to use masks in closed spaces... has been completely removed," Erdogan said from Ankara.

"Mask application will be continued for a while only on public transport vehicles and in health institutions until the number of (daily) cases falls below 1000."

Over-65s and those with other health problems would be advised to continue wearing masks, he added.

The number of daily cases has dropped dramatically since early February, when more than 110,000 infections were recorded.

Monday's daily data from the health ministry showed 2604 cases and 15 deaths.

At the start of March the government lifted rules on wearing masks outside or in indoor areas with sufficient air circulation and distancing.

It also ended the need for people to show a phone app logging their personal health record when entering venues such as shopping malls.

About 53 million of Turkey's population of 84.6 million have received at least two doses of vaccine, with nearly 28 million having had a third dose.

The head of the WHO on Tuesday urged countries to maintain surveillance of coronavirus infections, saying the world was "blind" to how the virus is spreading because of falling testing rates.

"As many countries reduce testing, WHO is receiving less and less information about transmission and sequencing," Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a news conference in Geneva.

"This makes us increasingly blind to patterns of transmission and evolution."

Bill Rodriguez, chief executive of FIND, a global aid group working with the WHO on expanding access to testing, said "testing rates have plummeted by 70 to 90 per cent".

"We have an unprecedented ability to know what is happening. And yet today, because testing has been the first casualty of a global decision to let down our guard, we are becoming blind to what is happening with this virus," he said.

The European Commission is set to say the EU has entered a new post-emergency phase of the pandemic in which testing should be targeted and monitoring of COVID-19 cases should be similar to sample-based flu surveillance, according to a draft document seen by Reuters.

The shift comes amid a gradual drop of cases and a fall in the number of deaths linked to COVID-19, thanks to the spread of the less virulent Omicron variant and the immunisation of more than 70 per cent of the EU population, with half of people in the bloc's countries having also received a booster shot.

"This communication puts forward an approach for the management of the pandemic in the coming months, moving from emergency to a more sustainable mode," the EU draft document says.

The commission had no comment.

The WHO is in charge of declaring a pandemic and the end of it, a move that has vast legal implications for a large variety of sectors, including insurers and vaccine makers.

The WHO has said the pandemic is not over.

The EU's document is non-binding and comes with clear warnings that "COVID-19 is here to stay," likely with the emergence of new variants, and therefore "vigilance and preparedness remain essential".

The draft document, prepared by Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides and set to be adopted on Wednesday, warns that new surges are possible and recommends EU governments keep up their guard and be ready to return to emergency measures if needed.

with reporting from AP

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