Danish parliament likely to back return of face masks

A majority of parties in the Danish parliament have signalled they are ready to back the government’s planned to reintroduce face mask rules. A decision is expected by Thursday evening.

Face masks in use in Denmark earlier this year. Reports suggest parliament will approve the government's plan to reintroduce face mask rules on public transport and in stores.
Face masks in use in Denmark earlier this year. Reports suggest parliament will approve the government's plan to reintroduce face mask rules on public transport and in stores.Photo: Henning Bagger/Ritzau Scanpix

The parties appear set to approve the move to bring back face masks after Health Minister Magnus Heunicke said at a press briefing on Wednesday evening that the government plans to reintroduce them on public transport and in supermarkets and other consumer settings.

Because of the way Danish law relating to restrictions on society during epidemics now works, the relevant parliamentary committee must not oppose measures put forward by the government, in order for them to come into effect.

The committee, the Epidemic Committee (Epidemiudvalget), consists of 21 lawmakers who represent each party proportionally to their number of seats in parliament.

Broadcaster DR reports that each of the three smaller left wing parties – the Social Liberals, Socialist People’s Party (SF) and Red Green Alliance – are prepared to support the move, meaning it is likely to be rubber stamped. The Conservative party has also spoken in favour of the decision.

Should the committee approve the measure, it could come into effect from Monday November 29th, Heunicke said on Wednesday.

“Some of the newest studies show a quite significant effect with the use of face masks, and although the coronapas is not a 100 percent guarantee, it makes it possible to break some chains of infection,” Social Liberal health spokesperson Stinus Lingreen, who also chairs the committee, told DR.

Red Green Alliance spokesperson Peder Hvelplund said face masks are “what health authorities recommend, so we will of course back it”. Hvelplund’s comment makes reference to the government’s advisory independent Epidemic Commission.

SF said it was “ready to support (the decision), but we want to discuss whether it is necessary for staff working in the sectors affected by face mask rules to also wear them”.

“We are in a position where our health services are extremely strained and we need to do something about it. I think that coronapas and face masks are a balanced and effective way to do this,” Conservative health spokesperson Per Larsen meanwhile told DR.

Other right wing parties, including the Danish People’s Party (DF) and Liberal Alliance, expressed scepticism over the decision in comments to DR. Both parties suggested better support for the health system as a preferred response, while DF also called for home testing to be made available for vaccinated people.

The government will however have the necessary support for the measures in the parliamentary committee, should the left wing parties and Conservatives maintain their support for it.

The committee is scheduled to meet at 5pm today.

A total of 4,426 new cases of the virus were confirmed yesterday, the highest figure yet in 2021.

Rules relating to the coronapas Covid-19 health pass could also be broadened should the parties not stand in the way of the ramped-up measures.

READ ALSO: Denmark confirms plan to reintroduce face mask rules

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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.