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Governments across the world are moving away from a cautious approach and instead encouraging people to transition to the new normal, and return en masse to subways, offices and restaurants.

Increasingly, the message is the same: We have to learn to live with the virus.

This week, England removed nearly all virus restrictions. Germany is allowing vaccinated people to travel without quarantine. Outdoor mask mandates are mostly gone in Italy. Shopping malls are open in Singapore. And countries with zero-Covid policies — like Australia — are rethinking them.

My colleague Sui-Lee Wee writes that in Asia, Europe and the Americas, officials are coming to terms with the idea that lockdowns and restrictions will need to be reimposed and lifted as needed. They are now encouraging people to focus on avoiding severe illness and death, instead of infections, which are harder to avoid.

“You need to tell people: We’re going to get a lot of cases,” said Dale Fisher, a professor of medicine at the National University of Singapore. “And that’s part of the plan — we have to let it go.” Singapore is planning a shift to monitoring severe illness instead of infections, citing Israel as a model, which has pivoted to “soft suppression.” Both have recently seen a sharp rise in cases.

Some scientists are warning that it may be too soon. Michael Baker, an epidemiologist at the University of Otago in New Zealand, said that countries taking shortcuts on their way to reopening were putting unvaccinated people at risk and gambling with lives.

“At this point in time, I actually find it quite surprising that governments would necessarily decide they know enough about how this virus will behave in populations to choose, ‘Yes, we are going to live with it,’” Baker said.

Scientists say that Covid-19 should not be treated like the flu, because it is far more dangerous, and we still don’t fully understand the long-term symptoms of the disease. They are also uncertain how long vaccine immunity will last, and how well doses protect against the variants.

The virus is also raging in the developing world; only 1 percent of people in low-income countries have received a vaccine dose, according to the Our World in Data project. That gives the virus a greater opportunity to rapidly replicate, which increases the risks of more mutations and spread — and as more transmissible variants, like Delta, emerge, it’s putting even wealthy nations with lots of vaccines at risk.

Life expectancy in the U.S. fell by a year and a half in 2020, according to a new federal report. It was the steepest decline in life expectancy in the U.S. since World War II, and affected Hispanic and Black Americans more severely than white people. The coronavirus pandemic made up 74 percent of the negative contribution; there were also smaller rises in unintentional injuries, chronic liver disease and cirrhosis, homicide and diabetes.

From 2019 to 2020, Hispanic people experienced the greatest drop in life expectancy — three years — and Black Americans saw a decrease of 2.9 years. White Americans experienced the smallest decline, of 1.2 years.

Racial and ethnic disparities have persisted throughout the coronavirus pandemic, a reflection of many factors, including differences in overall health and available health care.

Black and Hispanic Americans were more likely to be employed in risky, public-facing jobs during the pandemic — as bus drivers, restaurant cooks, sanitation workers — rather than working from home in relative safety in white-collar jobs. They also more commonly depended on public transportation, risking coronavirus exposure, or lived in multigenerational homes and in tighter conditions that were more conducive to spread.

The drop caused largely by Covid-19 is not likely to be permanent. In 1918, the flu pandemic wiped 11.8 years from Americans’ life expectancy, and the number fully rebounded the following year. But researchers who produced the report said that life expectancy isn’t likely to bounce back to prepandemic levels anytime soon; the effects of the pandemic on life expectancy, especially for Black and Latino people, could linger for years.

See how the vaccine rollout is going in your county and state.

I feel like a pariah nowadays. When California announced the end of the mask mandate, people stopped masking and social distancing before the restrictions were officially lifted, and yet at-risk people like myself have no other choice but to continue. I wish I could wear a big flashing sign saying “Keep Your Distance!” but instead I have to ask people to stand back and bear the brunt of stares when I’m outside. But I know what I’m doing is right — one of my friends just got Covid even though she’s vaccinated. The only way I can cope is by holding firm to the standards that have kept me and my family safe since the beginning.

— Daniella G., Tustin, Calif.

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