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COVID-19 RULES

How likely is the return of Covid-19 restrictions in Denmark?

Covid-19 infections are currently increasing in Denmark, but the government's pathway to implementing wide-ranging restrictions is less simple than during earlier stages of the pandemic.

A closed golf course in Denmark during the March 2020 lockdown. A return to far-reaching coronavirus restrictions now requires majority backing in parliament.
A closed golf course in Denmark during the March 2020 lockdown. A return to far-reaching coronavirus restrictions now requires majority backing in parliament. Photo: Liselotte Sabroe/Ritzau Scanpix

Health Minister Magnus Heunicke is on Friday scheduled to discuss the current Covid-19 situation in Denmark with parliamentary colleagues.

Infection numbers have risen sharply this week and the minister said on Wednesday that testing would be upscaled. He also said the more of the population must be vaccinated to ward off the need for restrictions.

The total number of people hospitalised with Covid-19 in Denmark is currently 212, the highest since April though significantly lower than the peak in January, when over 900 were admitted to hospitals with the virus.

Spokespersons from at least three other parties – the Red Green Alliance, Danish People’s Party and Conservative Party – this week expressed their opposition to the return of coronavirus restrictions.

READ ALSO:

Because Covid-19 was in September downgraded from the status of “critical threat to society”, or samfundskritisk sygdom to alment farlig sygdom (“dangerous to public health”), the powers of the government to respond to it have changed.

A disease is considered a “critical threat” when it threatens the functions of society as a whole, by for instance, overwhelming the health system. In such instances, the government can impose bans on people gathering, close schools, demand Covid-19 passes, and mandate use of face masks, provided this is not opposed by a majority in parliament’s representative epidemic committee (epidemiudvalg).

These powers no longer apply for Covid-19, which is now rated “dangerous to public health”, and a smitsom sygdom, an infectious disease. Instead, the (minority) government would need a parliamentary majority to vote to reimplement the critical status, allowing the far-reaching restrictions to return.

Not enough parties favour this for it to be an option for the government at the time of writing.

A serious Covid-19 outbreak at a school can result in the school being closed by the Danish Patient Safety Authority (Styrelsen for Patientsikkerhed). A number of such closures could elicit re-evaluation of the current status of the pandemic by the health ministry and parliament’s epidemic committee, potentially resulting in its being upgraded back to a critical threat.

Although domestic restrictions are therefore still some way off, travel restrictions can be reintroduced, meaning entry into Denmark, currently largely unrestricted, could be limited again. Theoretically, this could mean entry quarantine and testing requirements are again widened, although there has been no discussion of this at the time of writing.

READ ALSO: Denmark to end Covid-19 colour system in ‘normalisation’ of travel rules

The government and health authorities also still have additional powers to test people and collect and share health data, and require people to self-isolate. That is because the coronavirus is still categorised as a danger to public health.

This is relevant in situations such as childcare and schools, where there are large proportion of unvaccinated people (because they are children), and in local authorities with high incidences of Covid-19.

If infections increase to over 500 per 100,000 residents in a municipality, authorities ask that children be dropped off at schools and daycare outdoors, and be tested twice weekly. This is currently the case in four municipalities west of Copenhagen – Ishøj, Albertslund, Glostrup and Brøndby.

After closing private rapid test centres earlier this month and in September, Heunicke said on broadcaster DR’s Aftenshowet programme that capacity would now be increased again, to 150,000 tests daily instead of 100,000.

Source: Sundhedsministeriet

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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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