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Denmark announces plan to lift restrictions on travel within EU

The Danish government has reached parliamentary agreement over a four-stage plan to lift the country’s restrictions on international travel. The plan only applies to travel to and from countries in the EU and Schengen zone.

Denmark announces plan to lift restrictions on travel within EU
Photo: Liselotte Sabroe/Ritzau Scanpix

Restrictions are to be eased in four phases, beginning on April 21st and reaching completion by June 26th, should everything go to plan.

The plan for easing restrictions was published late on Tuesday by the Ministry of Justice. All of parliament’s parties, with the exception of the extreme right-wing Nye Borgelige (New Right) party, back the agreement.

Restrictions for so-called “third countries” outside of the EU and Schengen area will follow the common approach adopted by the EU, which is expected to be renegotiated prior to the summer, according to the agreement text.

As such, people who live in the United Kingdom as well as the United States will continue to be subject to tight travel rules as Denmark lifts restrictions on European travel, despite the relatively advanced stage of vaccination programmes in both the UK and the US.

READ ALSO: The rules that will apply during Denmark’s four-stage plan to lift travel restrictions

The agreement provides for travel restrictions to be updated weekly based on local situations with the virus in individual countries and regions in the EU and Schengen area.

As such, a new system to be introduced on April 21st will use three categorisations for travel recommendations: “red”, “orange” and “yellow”. The categories will reflect local infection rates as well as the presence of mutations considered a “concern” by authorities.

Business travellers and people who own remote holiday homes termed ødegård in other Nordic countries will be subject to more lenient rules, while the list of “worthy” reasons which can enable non-tourist travel into the country is to be expanded.

As such, people attending certain types of Danish residential schools (højskoler and efterskoler), international students, spouse or partners and children of Danes who live abroad are amongst those who will now be allowed to enter Denmark (in the latter case they must be travelling together with the Danish family member).

“Travel restrictions remain an important tool in the battle to avoid importing infections from abroad and thereby also keep the epidemic under control in Denmark and keep new infection clusters out of the country,” justice minister Nick Hækkerup said in a statement.

“But along with the gradual reopening of society at home, travel restrictions must follow to the extent that this is medically safe,” he continued.

The Conservative party said it welcomed the agreement but that it would have preferred more allowances on travel.

“We have landed a sensible deal for travel-hungry Danes, the travel sector and Danish tourism,” the party’s representatives Birgitte Bergman and Marcus Knuth said in a joint statement.

“Have we reached our target – no, we would like to have had countries like the United Kingdom and the United States included in the agreement. Many millions of Britons and Americans are already vaccinated,” they added.

READ ALSO: Denmark to withdraw AstraZeneca from Covid-19 vaccination programme

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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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