TRENTON — As Gov. Phil Murphy begins new talks with legislative leaders over pandemic restrictions, calls are getting louder for the lifting of most, if not all, remaining restrictions and mandates.

Murphy's current public health emergency is due to expire next week. He refuses to say whether he will extend it. On Wednesday, Murphy said he was encouraged by falling COVID metrics, but worried about a potential rebound in infection rates and hospitalizations.

State Sen. Joe Pennacchio, R-Morris, is among those calling for an end to COVID restrictions and mandates.

In a news release, Pennacchio cited a report by John Hopkins University Krieger School of Arts and Sciences economists who looked at 24 studies that they handpicked to conclude that "lockdowns in Europe and the United States only reduced COVID-19 mortality by 0.2% on average."

“It is clear lockdowns should be rejected out of hand. Residents were forced to endure a lot of pain for virtually no benefit,” Pennacchio said. “The governor’s policies that bankrupted one of every three businesses in the state turned out to be worthless.

The report, however, does not claim that all pandemic restrictions did not work. The paper concludes that "closing non-essential businesses seems to have had some effect (reducing COVID-19 mortality by 10.6%), which is likely to be related to the closure of bars." The analysis also concludes that there is evidence that "masks may reduce COVID-19 mortality."

Pennacchio called for legislative hearings to question the governor directly about his policies.

Bipartisan legislation has been introduced in the Legislature that would prevent Murphy, and future governors, from declaring indefinite public health emergencies.

The pressure to ease up on restrictions in New Jersey comes as more European countries drop their COVID restrictions.

England, France, Ireland, the Netherlands and several Nordic countries have taken steps to end or loosen their restrictions. In some places like Norway and Denmark, the easing comes even though case counts are still hovering near their highs. Some governments are essentially betting that the pandemic is ebbing.

The moves have been endorsed by the World Health Organization, which this week said some countries can now consider carefully relaxing the rules if they have high immunity rates, their health care systems are strong and the epidemiological trends are going in the right direction.

New Jersey would seem to meet the WHO criteria. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have not yet made a similar recommendation. Generally, Murphy has followed CDC recommendations.

However, Murphy went beyond CDC guidance when he imposed new vaccine mandates on healthcare workers and corrections officers that require both full vaccination and a booster dose as a condition of employment. He also removed the testing option in lieu of vaccination.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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