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COVID-19 RULES

‘Liberating’: Denmark becomes only country in Europe with no Covid curbs

Denmark on Friday became the only European nation with no Covid curbs, losing a requirement to show vaccine passports to enter nightclubs as it cautiously embraces a return to normal.

'Liberating': Denmark becomes only country in Europe with no Covid curbs
The Warpigs pub in Copenhagen's Meatpacking District. Photo: Martin Heiberg

New infections have eased off in Denmark as vaccine rates have climbed, reaching over 70 percent of the overall population.

But as the Scandinavian country looked ahead to a new post-pandemic reality, the WHO warned that vaccines alone may not end the pandemic and the virus could be around for years.

One Denmark resident said the lifting of the last curbs was “liberating” after a tough pandemic slog.

“It’s been a rough couple of years. I have three kids and we have had homeschooling and it’s been a lot of hard days,” Klaus Sylvester said.

“It’s quite liberating that Denmark no longer has restrictions.” The nightclub rule was the last in a long line of measures that Denmark has gradually lifted in recent months.

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It is now the only nation in Europe to have no restrictions in place after Iceland lifted all its measures in June, only to reimpose them after cases spiked again.

Denmark introduced Covid passports in March 2021 as part of a gradual easing of rules.

On August 1 it lifted the Covid pass requirement at museums and indoor events with fewer than 500 people, before ditching it for major events, while masks have not been required on public transport since mid-August.

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

“We are definitely at the forefront in Denmark as we have no restrictions,” Ulrich Rum-Petersen, an event promoter, told AFP. “We are now on the other side of the pandemic thanks to the vaccination rollout.”

Danish authorities insist the virus is under control, with around 500 daily Covid cases and a reproduction rate of 0.7.

Vaccines have been swiftly rolled out, with 73 percent of the 5.8 million population fully vaccinated, and 96 percent of those 65 and older.

Cautious optimism

Optimism was tempered Friday as the World Health Organization’s Europe boss warned that vaccines were not likely to end the pandemic for good. Instead, jabs will help prevent serious disease and death, though the virus is likely to be around for years to come as it mutates, said Hans Kluge.

“We should anticipate how to gradually adapt our vaccination strategy to endemic transmission and gather really precious knowledge about the impact of additional jabs,” he told reporters in Copenhagen.

Denmark made third doses available to vulnerable groups as of Thursday, and the health minister said vaccines played an important role in helping the country return to normal.

But he struck a cautious note.

“Daily life is basically back to normal, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be any danger down the road,” Magnus Heunicke said Friday.

“The virus has mutated several times, so I can’t make any guarantees. But with this many people vaccinated, we are well set,” he told Danish television TV2.

Christian Nedergaard, who owns several restaurants 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.

Karoline Heiberg, a 24-year-old Copenhagener, said she felt conflicted about the lifting of all restrictions.

“On the one hand I’m excited … because I miss pre-corona life,” she said. “But on the other hand I don’t feel quite safe” she said, especially “on public transportation, people cough all the time.”

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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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