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COVID-19

When will Denmark stop requiring corona passports and face masks?

A new political agreement to ease Denmark’s Covid-19 restrictions has pledged a roadmap for the phasing out of face masks and corona passports.

When will Denmark stop requiring corona passports and face masks?
Denmark has pledged to end face mask requirements once its population has been vaccinated. Photo: Henning Bagger/Ritzau Scanpix

Face masks have been mandatory to varying extents in Denmark since August last year, when they became compulsory on public transport. They were later extended to stores and other indoor public areas.

Corona passports were introduced as the winter lockdown was eased in April. They are currently required to access a range of businesses including indoor service at cafes and restaurants; hairdressers and sports facilities.

A parliamentary majority agreed early on Tuesday to allow almost all indoor businesses in Denmark, with the exception of nightclubs, to open from this Friday. Education including universities can also return at normal capacity. Corona passports remain a requirement.

A text outlining the agreement was published by the Ministry of Justice.

The plan also includes provisions to phase out working from home, face masks and corona passports in the longer term.

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Rules requiring the use of face masks and corona passports will be revoked when all people over 16 in Denmark have been offered vaccination, several party leaders confirmed following Monday night’s talks.

“We will follow to the letter the agreement to phase out the corona passport. It is unfair for people to have to renew their corona passport all the time,” said Liberal party leader Jakob Ellemann-Jensen.

A concrete plan for ending mandatory face mask use will be presented in June, but Tuesday’s agreement specifies that masks will no longer be required when all people over 16 in Denmark have been offered vaccination – at the end of August according to the current schedule.

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.

It will also see the first steps towards ending its use in June, according to the agreement. But rules for the documentation are set to be eased slightly as early as May 21st.

On that date, the passports must no longer be shown to access libraries or sports taking place under the auspices of associations. You will still need a corona passport for these things, however, as spot checks will be conducted.

Additionally, a single dose of a Covid-19 vaccination will now be sufficient for a corona passport to be issued. Previously, both doses were required. The corona passport will become valid 14 days after the first dose of the vaccine has been received.

That decision means as many as 660,000 fewer people will be required to get tested regularly because they have had at least one dose of the vaccine two weeks ago or more, broadcaster DR reported based on calculations of the number of first-time vaccinated people.

The national infectious disease agency, SSI, approved the decision, DR writes.

Corona passports linked to first vaccine doses will only be temporary, however. That is to ensure people continue to come back for their second dose of the vaccine. The period of validity is yet to be set by health authorities and it is also currently unclear when the new rule will come into effect.

A return to offices and shared workspaces is to occur in three steps. In the first phase, which begins on Friday, 20 percent capacity will be allowed while remaining staff must continue to work from home where possible. The proportion will increase to 50 percent on June 14th and 100 percent on August 1st.

The public assembly limit is scheduled to increase on Friday from 25 to 50 persons indoors and from 75 to 100 persons outdoors. That is in keeping with the previous plan for reopening.

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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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