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How will Denmark use ‘corona passports’ in post-restriction reality?

Denmark, which has been under a partial lockdown for the last three months, says it will reopen most of society once everyone over 50 years old are vaccinated. 'Corona passports' are to play a key part in the lifting of restrictions.

How will Denmark use 'corona passports' in post-restriction reality?
The 'MinSundhed' app will serve as a simple 'corona passport' in Denmark from the end of March. Photo: Liselotte Sabroe/Ritzau Scanpix

In an announcement late Monday, Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen unveiled the plan for a return to normal which will see schools and universities, shops, restaurants and bars, libraries, museums and cinemas gradually reopen over a period of two months. 

“With a few exceptions, Danish society should be open when everyone over the age of 50 has been vaccinated,” set to be done by the end of May, she said.

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In the country of 5.8 million inhabitants, the numbers of new cases are one fourth of what was recorded in December when the government decided to lock down, in contrast to other European countries currently seeing rising cases again.

“We will proceed with caution. We can open up more now in Denmark, in contrast to several other countries, where the third wave of corona is a reality,” Frederiksen stressed.

Denmark has previously announced plans for the introduction of a ‘corona passport’, which will serve as a crucial part of the reopening.

Set up as a smartphone application, the ‘corona passport’ certifies that the holder has had a negative test in the last 72 hours, a vaccination or has recently recovered from Covid-19, conferring immunity to the disease.

Paper certificates are also being distributed to vaccinated Danes or those who have tested negative but do not have a smartphone. 

Starting on April 6th, the passports will be required for people wanting to go to hairdressers, and for when outdoor service of food and drinks resumes on April 21st.

Likewise for restaurants which are scheduled to open on May 6th and then a slew of other activities when most businesses will be allowed to reopen on May 21st.

The plan was announced on Monday after an agreement was reached between the minority government and a broad section of parliament. The agreement includes a sundown clause on the corona passports, news wire Ritzau reports.

That means that they can no longer be required (apart from in relation to travel and tourism) when everyone in Denmark has been offered a vaccine, which is likely to be by August this year according to the current vaccination calendar.

Meanwhile, the government has remained vague on when major sporting and cultural events could see audiences return, of particular interest as Denmark will host some of the football matches in the European Championship in late June.

The Nordic country has fully vaccinated 5.4 percent of its population and 10.9 percent has received a first dose.

The country still has the AstraZeneca jab on hold pending further investigation of reports of side effects, which has slowed the vaccination rollout.

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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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