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Denmark’s regional trains to return to full passenger capacity

Regional trains in Denmark will be allowed to operate at full capacity for passenger numbers from Friday, May 21st. Seat reservations will still be required to take trains.

Denmark’s regional trains to return to full passenger capacity
Denmark's trains have been emptier than normal for some time due to coronavirus restrictions. Photo: Liselotte Sabroe/Ritzau Scanpix

As part of the latest update to Denmark’s planned easing of coronavirus restrictions, trains and buses will be permitted to allow more passengers on board. Both have been required to restrict capacity during the pandemic.

Although regional trains can return to full passenger numbers, the Intercity and ‘Lyn’ trains which connect major cities will remain limited, albeit at 70 percent of capacity rather than the current 50 percent.

The decision has been made in part due to the fact more people will begin to use the services as society in general returns to a more normal level of activity.

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“The reopening of society also means a greater need to travel with public transport to and from work or school. That’s why we are now conducting a targeted easing of capacity limits, with focus on rail traffic,” transport minister Benny Engelbrecht said in a statement.

“Reopening must take place safely. That’s why it’s still important that we keep a distance when possible and remember hand disinfectant and face masks,” Engelbrecht also said.

Rail operator DSB’s head of information Tony Bispeskov called for passengers to cancel seat reservations – which will remain a requirement on regional and long distance DSB trains – if they do not need them.

The company has noted that unused reservations have caused trains to run with fewer passengers than reserved seats, resulting in a lack of bookable seats.

“We have seen up to one in four seats empty even though seats were reserved. That means people at the station have been unable to purchase the reservation needed to take the train,” Bispeskov said.

“We should remember that that we still have a pandemic and we don’t have standing passengers. Even though regional trains will increase to 100 percent, you can’t just squeeze in,” he added.

The political agreement for Friday’s easing of restrictions states that “restrictions on public transport will be adapted on an ongoing basis to follow the overall 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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