Danes could have to keep their distance for ‘at least a year’

People in Denmark should be prepared to follow social distancing guidelines for at least a year, the director of the country's infectious diseases institute Kåre Mølbak has warned.

Danes could have to keep their distance for 'at least a year'
Can social distancing be put in place at art galleries such as Louisiana: Photo: Ida Guldbæk Arentsen/Ritzau Scanpix
In an interview with the country's Berlingske newspaper, Mølbak said he doubted Danes would be able to shake hands, hug, or attend concerts or the theatre for months, or possibly even for more than a year.  
“This means that we do not need to get together for a Friday lunch at work, and it also means that we should return to giving one another handshakes, hugs and pecks on the cheek,” he said. “However, we can of course meet by other means, for example by Skype or Zoom, as many already are today.” 
He said, he could imagine some cultural institutions finding ways to safely let people back, but that cultural events or large numbers of people would be out of the question for months to come. 
“Maybe we can also, for example, find ways of visiting Louisiana [a popular art gallery outside Copenhagen], where we don't let so many people in at once,” he suggested.  
In the interview, Mølbak said he doubted a vaccine would be ready in months, as some now hope.
But he conceded that Denmark could not remain in full lockdown for as long as a year.  
“We evidently cannot shot down everything until we have a vaccine, but [any opening] must be under conditions where people can keep their distance. But there are probably some things that cannot be resumed until we have a vaccine.” 
Pelle Guldborg Hansen, a behavioural researcher at Roskilde University, said he didn't think it would be possible for Danes to maintain social distancing for so long. 
“We are social beings. To refrain from hugging and meeting and engaging in social activities such as sports, parties and café life, I find it difficult to see that you can stop this,” he said. 
He predicted that adherence to social distancing guidelines would start to slip. 
“If the numbers go up significantly, then the Danes will probably think again, he said. “But if the situation carries on as it is now, we probably won't stick to them. There needs to be a change before Danes will be willing to do it in the long run, and even then it will be problematic.” 

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Covid-19: European summer holidays threatened by rise of subvariants

A resurgence of Covid-19 cases in Europe, this time driven by new, fast-spreading Omicron subvariants, is once again threatening to disrupt people's summer plans.

Covid-19: European summer holidays threatened by rise of subvariants

Several Western European nations have recently recorded their highest daily case numbers in months, due in part to Omicron sub-variants BA.4 and BA.5.

The increase in cases has spurred calls for increased vigilance across a continent that has relaxed most if not all coronavirus restrictions.

The first resurgence came in May in Portugal, where BA.5 propelled a wave that hit almost 30,000 cases a day at the beginning of June. That wave has since started to subside, however.

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS: German Health Ministry lays out autumn Covid plan

Italy recorded more than 62,700 cases on Tuesday, nearly doubling the number from the previous week, the health ministry said. 

Germany meanwhile reported more than 122,000 cases on Tuesday. 

France recorded over 95,000 cases on Tuesday, its highest daily number since late April, representing a 45-percent increase in just a week.

Austria this Wednesday recorded more than 10,000 for the first time since April.

READ ALSO: Italy’s transport mask rule extended to September as Covid rate rises

Cases have also surged in Britain, where there has been a seven-fold increase in Omicron reinfection, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The ONS blamed the rise on the BA.4 and BA.5 variants, but also said Covid fell to the sixth most common cause of death in May, accounting for 3.3 percent of all deaths in England and Wales.

BA.5 ‘taking over’

Mircea Sofonea, an epidemiologist at the University of Montpellier, said Covid’s European summer wave could be explained by two factors.

READ ALSO: 11,000 new cases: Will Austria reintroduce restrictions as infection numbers rise?

One is declining immunity, because “the protection conferred by an infection or a vaccine dose decreases in time,” he told AFP.

The other came down to the new subvariants BA.4 and particularly BA.5, which are spreading more quickly because they appear to be both more contagious and better able to escape immunity.

Olivier Schwartz, head of the virus and immunity unit at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, said BA.5 was “taking over” because it is 10 percent more contagious than BA.2.

“We are faced with a continuous evolution of the virus, which encounters people who already have antibodies — because they have been previously infected or vaccinated — and then must find a selective advantage to be able to sneak in,” he said.

READ ALSO: Tourists: What to do if you test positive for Covid in France

But are the new subvariants more severe?

“Based on limited data, there is no evidence of BA.4 and BA.5 being associated with increased infection severity compared to the circulating variants BA.1 and BA.2,” the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) said last week.

But rising cases can result in increasing hospitalisations and deaths, the ECDC warned.

Could masks be making a comeback over summer? (Photo by OSCAR DEL POZO / AFP)

Alain Fischer, who coordinates France’s pandemic vaccine strategy, warned that the country’s hospitalisations had begun to rise, which would likely lead to more intensive care admissions and eventually more deaths.

However, in Germany, virologist Klaus Stohr told the ZDF channel that “nothing dramatic will happen in the intensive care units in hospitals”.

Return of the mask? 

The ECDC called on European countries to “remain vigilant” by maintaining testing and surveillance systems.

“It is expected that additional booster doses will be needed for those groups most at risk of severe disease, in anticipation of future waves,” it added.

Faced with rising cases, last week Italy’s government chose to extend a requirement to wear medical grade FFP2 masks on public transport until September 30.

“I want to continue to recommend protecting yourself by getting a second booster shot,” said Italy’s Health Minister Roberto Speranza, who recently tested positive for Covid.

READ ALSO: Spain to offer fourth Covid-19 vaccine dose to ‘entire population’

Fischer said France had “clearly insufficient vaccination rates” and that a second booster shot was needed.

Germany’s government is waiting on expert advice on June 30 to decide whether to reimpose mandatory mask-wearing rules indoors.

The chairman of the World Medical Association, German doctor Frank Ulrich Montgomery, has recommended a “toolbox” against the Covid wave that includes mask-wearing, vaccination and limiting the number of contacts.