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VACCINE

Denmark announces timeline for end of most Covid-19 restrictions

The Danish government has announced a gradual timeline for lifting coronavirus restrictions and said it planned for the majority of restrictions to be lifted once all people over 50 have been vaccinated against the virus.

Denmark announces timeline for end of most Covid-19 restrictions
Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen and other party leaders on Monday. Photo: Philip Davali/Ritzau Scanpix

The plan was presented by Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen and front figures from the other political parties after a deal was agreed late on Monday night.

Businesses, schools and sports and culture will be able to reopen at various points throughout April and May under the deal, with vaccine passports required to use services in a number of instances.

The agreement text sets out a fixed point for ending restrictions “when the oldest and vulnerable citizens and citizens over 50 years old have been vaccinated with the first dose, if they want it”.

That point will signal the end of most restrictions, although some will remain including those “in relation to events which carry a risk of superspreading, including large events and nightlife, travel restrictions and general measures to reduce infections,” the agreement states.

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“We have agreed that it is a very, very important fixed point when everyone over 50 years has been vaccinated. This is however dependent on us being able to keep infections down and use vaccine passports,” Frederiksen said.

The use of vaccine passports means that documentation of either vaccination, a recent negative test, or recent (no longer active) infection will be required to use some services including hairdressers, tattoo artists and massage parlours, according to broadcaster DR’s report on the agreement.

The only party not to back the reopening plan, the far-right Nye Borgerlige (New Right), has cited use of vaccine passports as the reason it would not support the agreement.

The timescale set out by the plan is summarised below.

  • April 6th: Further relaxation of school closures and opening of service industries such as hairdresser, although vaccine passports will be required to use them.
  • April 21st: Larger shopping malls allowed to open. Cultural facilities such as museums, art galleries and libraries allowed to open, vaccine passports in effect. Restaurants allowed to serve outside.
  • May 6th: Concert venues, theatres and cinemas allowed to open; restaurants permitted to operate indoor services.
  • May 21st: Evening schools and other auxiliary education can reopen; all sports facilities allowed to reopen.

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COVID-19 ALERT

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.

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