LONDON — In Britain, France, Spain and other countries across Europe, politicians and some public health experts are pushing a new approach to the coronavirus pandemic borne of both boldness and resignation: that the illness is becoming a fixture of daily life.
Governments are seizing a moment in which their populations have experienced less severe illness, and, in some instances, a drop in new daily cases after weeks of record growth. And they are moving their mitigation policies off emergency footing.
In Spain, for instance, Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez declared last week that citizens would “have to learn to live with it, as we do with many other viruses,” and said that the country should adjust the national approach to more closely align with how it handles influenza outbreaks. Olivier Véran, the French health minister, said recently that France’s high level of infection and strong vaccination rate could “maybe” mean this would be the final wave.
The shift comes even as the World Health Organization cautioned this week against treating the virus like the seasonal flu, saying it was too soon to make that call. Much about the disease remains unknown, the W.H.O. said. And a surge in cases driven by the Omicron variant is still battering the continent, while the population of much of the world remains vulnerable because of a lack of widespread vaccination, and more variants are still likely to arise.
Still, advocates of the “learn to live with it” approach point out that the latest surge in cases is different from the early days of the virus in several important ways, including a largely vaccinated population in parts of Europe, especially in the West, and a far lower rate of hospitalization.
The sentiment is evident in the evolving policies that the British government has adopted since the start of this year, a stark departure from the “war footing” that the country’s health service preached in December.
The changes include shorter isolation periods and the elimination of pre-departure tests for people traveling to England — largely because Omicron was already so prevalent that the tests had a limited effect on its spread.
There have been some concrete signs that Britain may be turning a corner. There were 99,652 new cases reported on Friday, a notable drop from the 178,250 cases reported on the same day last week.
“It can’t be an emergency forever,” Graham Medley, a professor of infectious disease modeling at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, told BBC Radio 4 this week. He added that the end of the pandemic was likely to occur in phases rather than appear as “an active point in time” when it can be declared to be over.
Amid this shift, the messaging to the public has varied, often in confusing ways. The guidance can be all over the map, with some politicians declaring the latest wave over and…