Danish PM ‘ready to bring in more restrictions if needed’

Denmark's Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen has said she is prepared to bring in still more restrictions if they are necessary to bring the level of coronavirus infections under control.

Danish PM 'ready to bring in more restrictions if needed'
Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen takes part in a virtual EU meeting. Photo: Mads Claus Rasmussen/Ritzau Scanpix
“We believe the restrictions announced on Friday, and introduced on Monday and Thursday, are sufficient to deal with the situation we are in. If that turns out not to be the case, the government is ready to introduce more restrictions,” she told the broadcaster TV2
Denmark's new extended face mask requirement came into force on Thursday morning, as did a ban on shops selling alcohol after 10pm. On Monday, the maximum number of people Danes can meet with was reduced to ten. 
There are early signs that the number of people infected in Denmark is starting to respond to tighter restrictions, with the number of people testing positive  falling to 847 on Tuesday and 157 on Wednesday after peaking at a record-high 1,000 on Monday. 
But Frederiksen said that the experience of other countries in Europe showed how quickly the situation can change for the worse. 
“We are not standing on the edge of a second wave, we are in the middle of it and the situation is serious,” she said. “Just now the situation in Denmark is better than in many other European countries, but we can see when we look around how quickly it can go. It can be a question of a few days, whether you're in a leading position or right down at the bottom.” 
She had recently sat in a virtual meeting with other European Union leaders where it was clear that several countries were losing control of the infection. 
“I can also see that in Europe, that if you move too late, as some countries did in the spring, you will get many more infections and potentially many more deaths and that is something we do not want to see in Denmark.” 
She underlined once again how serious a threat coronavirus is. 

“I hear people say 'this is not a dangerous diseases, that it's only a type of influenza, that the government is overreacting, that this or that restriction is unnecessary, why don't we wait until we have more deaths and more infected'. This is a way of thinking that I don't think holds up against reality.” 

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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.