Denmark extends coronavirus lockdown to entire country

Every one of Denmark’s 98 municipalities will come under the country’s ‘partial lockdown’ coronavirus restrictions from Wednesday December 16th.

Denmark extends coronavirus lockdown to entire country
People queue at a mobile Covid-19 test centre in Denmark on December 12th. Photo: Philip Davali/Ritzau Scanpix

The partial lockdown restrictions were introduced last week, initially in 38 municipalities before a further 31 were added on Friday. They will now come into effect nationwide.

The expansion of the partial lockdown was confirmed by transport minister Benny Engelbrecht.

“It is really serious now. Corona has far too much of a grip on Denmark,” Engelbrecht write in a Facebook post.

“Infection rates are too high and the number of hospitalisations is rising. Far too much. That’s why we are now extending the partial lockdown to the entire country,” he added.

Local authorities were informed of the decision by health minister Magnus Heunicke earlier on Tuesday.

The lockdown takes effect in the 29 hitherto-excluded municipalities, which are mostly located in North Jutland and South Jutland, at 4pm on Wednesday.

Under the restrictions, restaurants, bars, cafes, gyms, sports centres and swimming pools are required to close. Restaurants and cafes are allowed to operate takeaway services. Professional sport is exempted from the restrictions.

Indoor areas at amusement parks, zoos, aquariums and similar types of attractions, as well as at museums, theatres, cinemas and libraries, are also closed to the public.

School children from 5th grade upwards in the affected municipalities are sent home, with classes to take place online. The same restriction applies to all adult and further education, including upper secondary schools (gymnasier) and universities. Exams will take place, but will be moved online wherever possible.

Public sector workers not in critical functions must work from home.

The restrictions are set to remain in place until January 3rd 2021.

Anders Beich, head of the Danish College of General Practitioners, called on Tuesday for restrictions on travel between different regions of Denmark, given the particularly serious nature of the current infection rate in Copenhagen.

“It would be really bad to spread the capital’s infections to the rest of the country, and that can’t be avoided if there’s travel across the country,” Beich told DR.

“We know that geographical containment is a very good strategy. We saw it in North Jutland when infections started getting out of control there and we said people should stay in their own municipalities,” he added.

The Copenhagen city government’s head of health and social care Sisse Marie Welling meanwhile called for everyone in the capital to “cancel all arrangements, stay at home, if you can work from home, then do so. Isolate as much as possible so it’s possible to go home and see your parents for Christmas.

Copenhagen Municipality has registered 5,167 cases of Covid-19 in the last seven days, giving it an infection rate of 822.1 per 100,000 residents, the highest in Denmark. Neighbouring Frederiksberg and other parts of greater Copenhagen trail very closely behind, official data shows.

Nationally, 2,992 new infections were registered on Tuesday, only the second time in the last six days the figure has been under 3,000. The test positivity rate is 3.33.

439 people are currently admitted to hospital with the coronavirus. During the spring wave, that figure peaked at just over 500.

READ ALSO: Where are Denmark’s coronavirus hotspots?

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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.