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FACE MASK

How are Denmark’s coronavirus rules changing this week?

From today, Monday June 14th, people in Denmark no longer need to wear face masks in restaurants, bars, and museums, at concerts, cinemas, or almost anywhere else.

How are Denmark's coronavirus rules changing this week?
A discarded face mask by the road between Ringsted and Roskilde. Photo: Mads Claus Rasmussen/Ritzau Scanpix

The only situation in a public place where it remains compulsory to wear a face mask is when standing on public transport.  Passengers no longer need to wear a mask when seated, at train stations or on rail platforms or bus stops. 

Talking to Denmark’s Ritzau newswire on Monday, Kasper Karmark Iversen, the chief doctor at Herlev-Gentofte Hospital, said that with infectious rates and hospitalisations falling despite the restrictions lifted over the past month, he was not concerned about the decision to drop the mask requirement. 

“We can not see the effect of the reopening so far, but these figures mean that I am not worried about what will happen – not even after the further reopening,” he said. 

READ ALSO: How Denmark’s coronavirus restrictions will be lifted between now and October

However, at a press conference on Thursday, the director of the Danish Health Authority, Søren Brostrøm said that masks were still recommended for anyone who: 

  • enters the public sphere when they are ill 
  • has coronavirus symptoms
  • knows they are infected with coronavirus
  • has been in close contact with an infected person
  • is in self-isolation and need to see a doctor or get tested

Other restrictions lifted on Monday include: 

  • the need to show a valid coronavirus passport to enter public libraries, when doing activities linked to voluntary organisations or clubs, at evening classes, or for when taking classes under the Folkeuniversitetet adult education system. 
  • the special time table that was in place at kindergartens, primary schools, after-school clubs, and centres for youth and adult education  
  • the special hygiene and distancing routines imposed on schools from April last year, including the need for parents to wear face masks when they drop off or pick up their children at school or kindergarten, the ban on parents entering the main rooms in kindergartens, the ban on children playing with other children from different divisions of a kindergarten, the extra cleaning and disinfection of toys brought in last April. 
  • Staff at kindergartens and primary schools who wish to wear a protective visor will continue to have the right to do so, Denmark’s ministry of education said in a press release on Friday.

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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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