Danish majority could back limit on public assembly as part of new restrictions

Ahead of a briefing on Denmark’s Covid-19 situation on Friday afternoon, political parties have expressed a range of opinions on what new restrictions they want to see.

People queue for Covid-19 vaccination in Copenhagen on December16th. Several political parties have suggested they could back a limit on public assembly in response to spiralling cases.
People queue for Covid-19 vaccination in Copenhagen on December16th. Several political parties have suggested they could back a limit on public assembly in response to spiralling cases. Photo: Philip Davali/Ritzau Scanpix

Health officials at a press briefing yesterday evening indicated new restrictions are possible and necessary, though the decision to implement them and what to implement must be taken by politicians.

Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen wrote in a Facebook post yesterday that she expects new restrictions, after a record 9,999 new cases were recorded.

Health spokespersons from the various political parties were scheduled to meet on Friday morning. But news wire Ritzau reported that a number of lawmakers had confirmed the parliamentary Epidemic Committee was not scheduled to meet.

This raises questions in relation to the timing of new restrictions because the Committee must meet and a majority must agree not to oppose new restrictions in order for them to come into effect.

Regardless of when a final approval might come, several parties have already spoken to Danish media about their stance on new restrictions, giving some clues as to how these might look.

READ ALSO: What new Covid-19 restrictions could Denmark introduce?

The Conservative party is ready to back new restrictions, health spokesperson Per Larsen told broadcaster DR.

“It’s clear that when health authorities recommend it, we’ll also want to step on the brakes,” Larsen said.

An assembly limit in situations such as large concerts will “likely be part of the discussion,” he said.

“But we also have a number of restrictions (already). So it will be something over and above that which will be discussed. That’s obvious,” he added.

Denmark used assembly limits during Covid-19 lockdowns and restrictions in earlier phases of the pandemic but has refrained from reintroducing them in the current wave, with the exception of a ban on standing concerts for over 50 people.

Assembly restrictions in 2020 and up to summer 2021 restricted gatherings in public to as little as five people before gradually being increased and lifted. Limits on private assembly were not enforced but recommendations and guidelines to limit gatherings in private homes were issued.

The Conservatives also support allowing restaurants and similar businesses to fully close down with full compensation provided by the government, instead of operating at a potential loss due to the effect of restrictions.

The health spokesperson with the Liberal Party, Martin Geertsen, said “I think the fairest thing is to let health authorities give a status and say what is needed.” The Liberals are the largest party in opposition.

Normally, the government only requires the backing of its left wing allied parties to implement restrictions, although the centre-right parties have regularly joined agreements in response to the Covid-19 epidemic.

The health spokesperson with the Socialist People’s Party, Kirsten Normann Andersen, told news wire Ritzau on Thursday – prior to the publication of the latest infection figures – that she supported new restrictions, including a temporary suspension of the so called behandlingsgaranti or treatment guarantee.

The guarantee, provided by the national health system, gives patients the right to be treated within 30 days, if necessary by moving their treatments to a different hospital (including some private hospitals).

Andersen also mooted the possibly of an assembly limit.

“I also think that it could be necessary to make some form of restriction in relation to how many can gather when it is with people we don’t know,” she said.

The Red Green Alliance said it wants new restrictions as soon as possible, including a suspension of the treatment guarantee and more restrictions on nightlife and assembly limit as low as 10 people.

Currently bars, restaurants and nightclubs are required to close at midnight and alcohol sales are banned between midnight and 5am.

“I’d like to implement before the weekend so we can put the brakes on the quite extreme increase in infections,” coronavirus spokesperson for the party Peder Hvelplund said.

“This could mean further restrictions on nightlife, and assembly limit possibly down to 10 people and a strategy for how we ensure capacity in the health system and in testing and tracing,” Hvelplund said.

The third of the three smaller left wing parties, the Social Liberals (Radikale Venstre), are also prepared to support restrictions.

“We are hearing that medical experts say more restrictions are important and are talking about an assembly limit amongst possible measures. We back up on that,” health spokesperson Christina Thorholm said.

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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.