The European Union said on Wednesday that it was moving out of the emergency phase of the Covid-19 pandemic, while focusing on vaccination, pandemic surveillance and testing in preparation for a possible new pandemic wave in the fall.
The move comes as the number of deaths and hospitalizations across Europe has dropped significantly because of the prevalence of the less severe Omicron variant, as well as high immunization levels. Three quarters of Europeans are fully vaccinated, and over half have received a booster shot.
As the burden on health care systems by the disease has decreased in recent weeks, several E.U. nations have dropped coronavirus restrictions, creating a confusing patchwork of measures across the bloc.
The E.U. announcement — which came from the European Commission, the bloc’s executive arm — is an attempt to coordinate the management of the pandemic as it becomes less acute, although national governments continue to set their own policies on public health. Wednesday’s recommendation is not legally binding, and countries are free to follow or ignore it.
Ursula von der Leyen, the commission’s president, said on Wednesday that it was crucial to stay vigilant.
“New variants can emerge and spread fast,” Ms. von der Leyen said. “But we know the way forward. We need to further step up vaccination and boosting, and targeted testing — and we need to continue to coordinate our responses closely in the E.U.”
On Tuesday, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the head of the World Health Organization, warned that a sharp fall in testing risked leaving the world blind to the evolution of the coronavirus and the potential emergence of new, dangerous mutations.
Mr. Ghebreyesus added: “When it comes to the deadly virus, ignorance is not a bliss.”