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‘It’s a very special day’: Denmark reacts to reopening of cafes, restaurants and museums

Denmark's bars, cafes, restaurants and museums reopened on Wednesday, giving life in the capital Copenhagen a semblance of normalcy as the spread of Covid-19 was deemed stable.

‘It's a very special day’: Denmark reacts to reopening of cafes, restaurants and museums
People returned to restaurants and cafes in Denmark on Wednesday. Photo: Mads Claus Rasmussen/Ritzau Scanpix

The Scandinavian country decided last week to speed up its reopening. On Wednesday evening, fans were to be allowed to return to the stands to watch the final match of the Superliga, Denmark’s first division football league.

Denmark enters new phase of reopening plan: Here’s what changed on Wednesday

“The pandemic is not over … but it feels like it’s coming towards the last chapter,” Darcy Millar, who owns a cafe in central Copenhagen, told AFP.

On the terrace of her cafe, regulars were delighted to sit down and sip their coffee out of “real” cups.

“You had to take it for a take-away … when it was pretty cold and that was frustrating,” said Dominic Parr, a 26-year-old local.

But now “it’s fantastic, I’m very happy.”

A few kilometres away, the National Museum has set up small tents to check that each visitor is wearing a face mask and is the holder of a “corona pass”.

The pass — which confirms that a person has either tested negative in the past 72 hours, been vaccinated, or recently recovered from Covid-19 — is required to enter museums and sit down at restaurants, where reservations are mandatory except at outdoor terraces.

Corona passport: What you need to know about Danish Covid-19 vaccine and test documentation

National Museum officials were thrilled about things regaining a sense of normalcy.

“It’s a very special day, to reopen after five months,” rejoiced deputy director Anni Mogensen.

Despite the reopenings, secondary school students remain partially in distance learning and many people are still working from home. 

Nightclubs remain closed, but cinemas, theatres and concert halls are scheduled to reopen on May 6th.

The government has said that targeted closures may be necessary if the spread of the virus were to accelerate.

With 5.8 million inhabitants, Denmark has seen its new cases of Covid-19 fall to a level four times lower than in December, when it went into a partial lockdown with the closure of schools and non-essential shops, which have since reopened.

The Danish vaccination campaign has meanwhile been slowed by its decision to drop the AstraZeneca vaccine entirely due to concerns over rare but serious side effects, but all adults are expected to be fully vaccinated by August.

So far, 9.3 percent of the population has received two doses and 19.3 percent has received their first dose.

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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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