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COVID-19

Denmark to close cinemas and theatres under new Covid restrictions

Denmark on Friday announced it would close cinemas, theatres and concert halls over record numbers of daily Covid-19 cases, accelerated by the new Omicron variant, Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said.

Denmark announced new Covid-19 restrictions on December 17th as cases hit new record levels.
Denmark announced new Covid-19 restrictions on December 17th as cases hit new record levels. Photo: Olafur Steinar Gestsson/Ritzau Scanpix

The Scandinavian country recorded a new all-time high of more than 11,000 cases in the past 24 hours, Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen told a press conference.

“It’s necessary to have new restrictions that limit activity in the community and reduce transmissions,” Frederiksen told a press briefing on Friday after noon.

The prime minister stressed that more severe restrictions such as lockdowns including assembly limits, like those seen during previous Covid-19 waves, were not currently being introduced because of the effect of vaccines. Reports earlier on Friday suggested that a number of parties were in favour of assembly limits.

The new restrictions, recommended by the government’s advisory Epidemic Commission, are as follows:

  • Closure of concerts halls, theatres, cinemas, museums, galleries, community centres, zoos and community events.
  • Closure of amusement parks such as Copenhagen’s major tourist attraction Tivoli.
  • Extension of limits on bars and nightlife, with sales of alcohol banned after 10pm and establishments to close at 11pm. General sales of alcohol banned from 10pm-5am.
  • Face mask restrictions extended to all business and cultural locations with public access along with take-away businesses, driving schools and places of worship.
  • Capacity limits to be reintroduced in stores as well as at restaurants and places of worship. This includes capacity limits on stores with under 2,000 square metres of floor area, similar to rules under earlier waves.
  • Seat reservations mandatory on intercity and regional trains and buses.
  • Home working and limiting social contact during the Christmas period is recommended.

“Theatres, cinemas and concert halls, they will have to close,” Frederiksen said.

“We need to limit our activity. We all need to limit our social contacts,” she added.

All new restrictions were approved by the Epidemic Committee on Friday evening, meaning they will take effect on Sunday at 8am.

The restrictions are scheduled to expire on January 17th 2022.

At the request of the Liberal Party, an assessment will be made by January 5th as to whether it will be necessary to keep the measures in place beyond January 17th. This is to ensure clarity about whether the restriction will continue.

Dealing with new record numbers on a daily basis, the government has accelerated the rollout of booster doses of Covid-19 vaccines, authorised an anti-Covid pill treatment by US drugmaker Merck for serious cases and started gun vaccinations of children aged five to 11.

Cases have nevertheless continued to spiral with an all-time high of 11,194 new cases registered on Friday. The number of confirmed cases of the Omicron variant increased by 2,550 and now stands at 11,559 since it first emerged in late November.

Unlike during earlier virus waves, Frederiksen said the government still planned to re-open schools after the holidays, even though the Christmas vacation was brought forward to counter the surge.

“Our aim is still to keep society as open as possible,” she said, adding that more restrictive measures introduced in the spring of 2020 could be avoided “because we have vaccines.”

Denmark has reported a total of 600,468 cases of Covid-19 since the start of the pandemic and 3,054 associated deaths.

Some 500 people are currently hospitalised, including a few dozen in intensive care.

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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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