Denmark announces support package for lockdown-hit restaurants

A financial support package for restaurants and cafes impacted by the partial coronavirus lockdown in Denmark has been praised in part by the industry, but others have called for a further-reaching response.

Denmark announces support package for lockdown-hit restaurants
A closed cafe in Odense. Photo: Tim Kildeborg Jensen/Ritzau Scanpix

The government on Thursday agreed a provision for wage compensation for businesses affected by the partial lockdown currently effective in 38 Danish municipalities.

The compensation scheme pays for up to 75-90 percent of wages up to 30,000 kroner per month and enables restaurants to furlough table staff while keeping on kitchen staff, with businesses still permitted to operate takeaway services.

The deal will save jobs in the sector, according to a representative from Horesta, the interest organisation for the hospitality sector.

“Businesses in our sector are so dependent on staff and when there is no compensation, there’s no choice but to let them go. With this deal we can ensure that our staff don’t get a redundancy notice for Christmas,” Horesta political director Kirsten Munch Andersen said.

The agreement, between the government and employer organisations, was announced on Thursday morning.

Although it was praised by Munch Andersen, the industry representative also called the compensation package a first step to protecting the industry during the current lockdown.

“It is necessary to look at how compensation is secured for the expenses brought about by the lockdown.

“That is in relation to regular expenses as well the cost of things like raw materials that won’t be used,” she said.

December is usually a peak month for the industry, which enables it to get through quieter months in January and February under normal circumstances, she also pointed out.

Another industry interest group, SMVdanmark, was critical of parts of the deal. The organisation represents small and medium-sized businesses in Denmark.

Smaller companies may struggle to make up the difference, SMVdanmark’s CEO Jakob Brandt said.

“Once again, far too large a part of the bill will be sent to small business,” Brandt said.

“There should have been a solution whereby employees are compensated by the state, for example through the unemployment insurance [Danish: dagpenge, ed.] system, because it’s clearly not fair for companies to pay the wages of staff who aren’t working,” Brandt said in a comment.

READ ALSO: How will Denmark's partial lockdown affect Christmas celebrations?

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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.