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COVID-19

KEY POINTS: The new Covid-19 measures Denmark will impose

Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen and leading health officials presented on Wednesday a series of new restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of Covid-19.

Danish PM Mette Frederiksen, business minister Simon Kollerup (L) and health authority director Søren Brostrøm present new Covid-19 restrictions on December 8th 2021.
Danish PM Mette Frederiksen, business minister Simon Kollerup (L) and health authority director Søren Brostrøm present new Covid-19 restrictions on December 8th 2021. Photo: Mads Claus Rasmussen/Ritzau Scanpix

The announcement came with infection rates at record levels and the Omicron variant now being transmitted in the community, meaning cases are no longer solely related to travellers infected abroad.

Earlier on Wednesday, reports indicated that the validity period of the country’s vaccine pass would be shortened.

The status of Covid-19 as a “critical threat” was extended by eight weeks, enabling new restrictions to be implemented unless opposed by a majority of parliament’s epidemic committee.

READ ALSO: Denmark extends ‘critical threat’ status of Covid-19

“When we entered the autumn we were prepared for infections to increase and for more people to unfortunately be hospitalised,” Frederiksen said at Wednesday’s press briefing, adding that the first response of the government was to push for more vaccinations.

But the emergence of the Omicron variant means additional measures are necessary, she added.

The independent Epidemic Committee advised the government to take action in response to the epidemic, and the measures announced Wednesday will not be opposed by a majority in parliament.

“(Omicron) is expected to mean more infections, more illness and potentially more in hospital. The new variant therefore also comprises a significant risk for critically straining the health system and that’s why we have to do more,” Frederiksen said.

In addition to ramping up vaccinations and boosters, Denmark has in recent weeks reimplemented Coronapas (Covid-19 health pass) and face mask rules.

The latest measures, announced on Wednesday, are listed below.

Restriction of nightlife

Bars, restaurants and nightclubs will be required to close at midnight and alcohol sales after midnight will be broadly banned, the government confirmed.

The rules come into effect on Friday.

Compensation packages are to be offered to businesses impacted by the closures, business minister Simon Kollerup said at the briefing.

School term to end early

Schools will close for Christmas one week earlier than planned and will remain closed until January 4th. Children remain among the groups with high rates of infection due to lower vaccination levels, although Denmark has now begun vaccinating younger children.

Lessons will be conducted online during the final week of the autumn term.

Standing concerts limited to 50 guests 

Concerts with crowds of over 50 standing people will be banned from Friday. It should be noted that this does not apply to concerts where the public is seated, and gatherings of more than 50 in other settings, such as museums or sporting events, are not affected.

Additional face mask requirements

Face masks must be worn at restaurants, bars and cafes when guests are not sitting down.

A requirement for face mask use in the hospitality sector was in place earlier this year but was not initially brought back when mask use in stores and on public transport was reintroduced late last month. This changes from Friday.

Reduced vaccine passport validity

The validity period of a Covid-19 health pass or coronapas will be reduced to seven months after completed vaccination or booster vaccination.

As such, the validity of Denmark’s vaccine pass will be shortened from 12 to 7 months for fully vaccinated people (after a second dose) or those who have received boosters (after a third dose).

READ ALSO: Denmark ‘to reduce’ Covid-19 vaccine pass validity period

Firms asked to scrap Christmas parties and send staff home

Frederiksen called for companies to cancel their julefrokoster or Christmas parties and to enable staff to work from home where possible, in both the public and private sectors.

This is not a restriction but a recommendation. Danish Health Authority director Søren Brostrøm called it a “strong encouragement” in comments at the briefing.

Smaller family Christmas get togethers are not affected by this, though Brostrøm did suggest families follow “good, infection-preventing advice” when celebrating Christmas together.

But Brostrøm stressed that “it is vaccines that will get us through this winter so we can keep an open society without needing additional restrictions.”

“Vaccines, vaccines, vaccines,” he added.

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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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