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COVID-19

Denmark does not rule out new travel restrictions after Omicron variant detected

Health Minister Magnus Heunicke said that Denmark was not planning new social Covid-19 restrictions at the current time after two cases of the new variant Omicron were confirmed in the country. But additional restrictions on travel to the country were not ruled out.

Danish health minister Magnus Heunicke said on Sunday that the government has no current plans to add new social restrictions i in response the Omicron variant of Covid-19, but could widen travel bans.
Danish health minister Magnus Heunicke said on Sunday that the government has no current plans to add new social restrictions i in response the Omicron variant of Covid-19, but could widen travel bans. Photo: Nils Meilvang/Ritzau Scanpix

Heunicke said on Sunday evening the new social restrictions “are not something we are considering specifically at the current time”, in comments to news wire Ritzau.

Restrictions agreed in parliament last week and taking effect today, including face mask use and broadened coronapas (Covid-19 health pass) rules, are “sufficient” according to the government and health authorities, the minister said.

“(The new restrictions) are what our authorities and we believe are sufficient in the situation in which we find ourselves now. It’s an unpredictable time and this new variant also underlines that,” he said.

READ ALSO: IN BRIEF: The Covid-19 rules which take effect in Denmark on November 29th

“We have openly said that we are following this very closely and we will do what is needed when it is needed. Nobody has an interest in Denmark being locked down again. The entire strategy is for us to have an open society with infections under control,” the minister added.

Two cases of infection with the variant have been confirmed in persons who travelled from South Africa to Denmark, broadcaster DR and other Danish media reported on Sunday.

Health authorities are undertaking extensive contact tracing including the close contacts of close contacts – also referred to as “third link” to the confirmed cases.

Heunicke said Denmark’s strategy was to delay the spread of the variant as much as possible, with suggestions that it could be more transmissible than the currently-dominant Delta variant, albeit with data so far limited.

“The last variants that took over actually did so vary, very quickly,” Heunicke said.

“If this one is more transmissible it will in all probability eventually take over, so it is crucial that we delay its introduction” to give time for vaccination and booster levels to be increased, he continued.

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As such, additional restrictions on travel into Denmark could be considered.

Currently, Denmark advises against travel to 10 countries. South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia and Eswatini were placed under restrictions late last week.

An additional three African countries — Angola, Malawi and Zimbabwe — were added to that list on Monday morning, the Ministry of Health said in a statement, citing a “principle of caution” and the detection of the Omicron variant in Malawi.

Travel to Denmark from the 10 countries is only permissible if one of a narrow range of “worthy purpose” criteria is fulfilled. Requirements to test and isolate for 10 days would also then apply to the traveller. A negative test on day four allows the person to leave isolation under Danish rules.

Travel restrictions could be applied to additional countries, Heunicke said on Sunday, without specifying which countries may come into consideration for this and prior to the addition of the latter three African countries to the list.

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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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