Many EU countries are choosing to reopen despite record infections as the World Health Organization suggests Omicron may signal a more manageable phase of the pandemic, our EU correspondent Jon Henley reports.

The Netherlands has lifted its strictest Covid controls, Denmark is set to remove all restrictions within days and France will start easing restrictions next week as many – but not all – countries in EU set to reopen despite record number of infections.

The changes come as data shows hospital and intensive care admissions are not increasing on a case-by-case basis, and after the World Health Organization suggested that the Omicron variant – which studies show is more contagious but generally less severe for vaccinated people – could signal a new, more manageable phase of the pandemic.

Dutch bars, restaurants and museums were allowed to reopen on Wednesday after the Prime Minister, Marc Ruttesaid the government is “consciously looking for the limits of what is possible” as the number of cases continues to climb to new daily highs.

However, ICU admissions and deaths have declined over the past Netherlandsand Health Minister Ernst Kuipers said a decision to extend the restrictive measures would have risked “damaging our health and our society”.

Cafes, bars and restaurants closed since mid-December can now reopen with reduced capacity and until 10 p.m. as long as customers have a Covid pass, with cinemas, theatres, museums and sporting events also allowed to welcome back in the public.

the Danish The government, which two weeks ago allowed cinemas and concert halls to reopen after a month of closure, also announced plans on Wednesday to scrap remaining national coronavirus controls from February 1.

The move – which must be approved by parliament – will allow nightclubs to reopen, restaurants to serve alcohol after 10 p.m. and shops to lift limits on the number of customers. Vaccine passes will no longer be required and commuters will be able to travel without wearing a mask.

Like the Netherlands, Denmark has set successive recent daily infection records But as coronavirus-related hospitalizations have increased, health authorities say between 30% and 40% of patients with a positive test are hospitalized for other reasons than Covid.

“There was a decoupling in the trend at the start of the epidemic, between the increase in infection and the increase in Covid hospitalizations,” the government’s expert advisory group said. The number of Covid patients in intensive care has almost halved since the beginning of January.

Belgium last week announced a slight easing of its restrictions from Friday despite record infections, with bars and restaurants allowed to remain open until midnight and indoor activities such as playgrounds and bowling alleys to reopen .

The country’s current Omicron wave is not expected to peak for another fortnight, but hospital admissions are rising at a much slower rate than infections and the number of intensive care patients is falling. “The situation is manageable,” said Steven Van Guchtvirologist.

France reported a new daily record of 501,635 new cases on Tuesday, but again, while hospital admissions have increased, only about half the number of patients are in intensive care compared to previous waves, and the number has been declining since January 12.

The Minister of Health, Olivier Veransaid the peak of the current coronavirus wave is expected to be reached in the coming days, while the Prime Minister, John Castexannounced a timetable last week for lifting Covid restrictions from February 2.

Castex said France’s vaccination pass, required since Monday to enter restaurants, cinemas and other public places, would lift audience capacity limits for concert halls and sporting and other events, with working from home also no longer being mandatory for many employees and face masks not needed outdoors.

The full story is here: Netherlands lifts toughest Covid restrictions, Denmark and France set to follow

Related: Netherlands lifts toughest Covid restrictions, Denmark and France set to follow