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COVID-19 RULES

‘We’re on the other side of the pandemic’: Denmark lifts last remaining Covid restrictions

With no masks in sight, buzzing offices and concerts drawing tens of thousands, Denmark on Friday ditches vaccine passports in nightclubs, ending its last Covid curb.

'We're on the other side of the pandemic': Denmark lifts last remaining Covid restrictions
People attend the Summer Days festival, an event which was adapted by the organisers of the Roskilde Festival to comply with Covid-19 restrictions, in June 2021. Photo: Torben Christensen/Ritzau Scanpix

The vaccine passports were introduced in March 2021 when Copenhagen slowly started easing restrictions.   

They were abolished at all venues on September 1st, except in nightclubs, where they will be no longer necessary from Friday.

“We are definitely at the forefront in Denmark as we have no restrictions, and we are now on the other side of the pandemic thanks to the vaccination rollout,” Ulrik Orum-Petersen, a promoter at event organiser Live Nation, told AFP.

On Saturday, a sold-out concert in Copenhagen will welcome 50,000 people, a first in Europe.

Already on September 4th, Live Nation organised a first open-air festival, aptly named “Back to Live”, which gathered 15,000 people in Copenhagen.

“Being in the crowd, singing like before, it almost made me forget Covid and everything we’ve been through these past months,” said Emilie Bendix, 26, a concert-goer. 

Denmark’s vaccination campaign has gone swiftly, with 73 percent of the 5.8 million population fully vaccinated, and 96 percent of those 65 and older.

“We’re aiming for free movement… What will happen now is that the virus will circulate and it will find the ones who are not vaccinated,” epidemiologist Lone Simonsen told AFP.

“Now the virus is no longer a societal threat, thanks to the vaccine,” said Simonsen, who works at the University of Roskilde.

According to the World Health Organization, the Scandinavian country has benefitted from public compliance with government guidelines and the Covid strategy adopted.

“Like many countries, Denmark has, throughout the pandemic, implemented public health and social measures to reduce transmission. But at the same time it has greatly relied on individuals and communities to comply voluntarily,” said Catherine Smallwood, WHO Europe’s emergency officer.

With around 500 daily Covid cases and a reproduction rate of 0.7, Danish authorities say they have the virus under control.

Health Minister Magnus Heunicke has however vowed that the government would not hesitate to swiftly reimpose restrictions if necessary.

Authorities insist that the return to normal life must be coupled with strict hygiene measures and the isolation of sick people.

The WHO still considers the global situation critical and has urged caution.

“Every country needs to remain vigilant as and when the epidemiological situation changes,” Smallwood said.

Denmark has said it will keep a close eye on the number of hospitalisations — just under 130 at the moment — and conduct meticulous sequencing to follow the virus. 

A third dose has also been available to risk groups since Thursday.

Simonsen said the vaccines have so far provided immunity from variants “but if escape variants (resistant to the vaccine) were to appear, we will have to rethink our strategy.”

Christian Nedergaard, who owns several restaurants and wine bars in Copenhagen, said that while everyone is happy about the return to normal life, “the situation is still complicated.” 

“The memory of coronavirus will fade very quickly from some people’s minds but not for everyone, and for restaurants this period has for sure been a game-changer,” he said.

“The industry needs to think about how to become more resilient.”

Travellers entering Denmark must still present either a vaccine passport or a negative PCR test, and masks are mandatory in airports.

READ ALSO: Covid-19 vaccination to be offered at Danish supermarkets

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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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