The Czech government said on Monday it would allow critical workers such as doctors and teachers to go to work after a positive COVID-19 test.
As the much more contagious Omicron variant becomes dominant and forces hundreds of thousands to isolate, the pressure is growing on health workers, police, and firefighters, with teachers set to follow as schools resume after the Christmas holidays.
But at the same time, data showing that Omicron is less likely to fill hospital beds, especially as many or most people are now vaccinated, has encouraged governments to scale back isolation measures and focus on sparing their battered economies.
The hours of work lost to the pandemic around the world in 2020 were equivalent to 258 million full-time jobs disappearing, according to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), and last year the figure still amounted to around 125 million jobs.
Britain, France, Switzerland, Spain, and Belgium have all cut quarantine periods in the last three weeks and eased some of the conditions for infected staff to return to work.
Czech ministers are drawing up a list of the critical workers who will be allowed to continue working despite a positive test, and have said health, social and education workers are likely to figure, along with drivers and those in other essential services such as laundry for hospitals.
“Governments are showing much less willingness to impose major lockdowns, or even to impose minor measures, in response to the Omicron wave,” said ILO economist Stefan Kuhn.
France and Switzerland have both cut quarantine periods to seven days from 10 since Christmas for those with a positive test.