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NEW YEAR'S EVE

How will Danish New Year’s Eve be different – and the same – in 2021?

People across Denmark will participate in many of the country’s much-loved New Year’s traditions in 2021, though Covid-19 means things will be a little different to pre-pandemic times.

Fireworks are set off over Copenhagen on December 31st 2020.
Fireworks are set off over Copenhagen on December 31st 2020. Photo: Tim Kildeborg Jensen/Ritzau Scanpix

New Year’s Eve is a big deal in Denmark, with several popular traditions and customs repeated by Danes year in, year out.

A big part of the occasion involves gathering with friends to eat a meticulously-prepared three course meal and follow time-honoured – and sometimes rather bizarre – traditions, before drinking and partying into the night.

In 2020, a Covid-19 lockdown left New Year’s Eve bereft of much of its customary party feel.

There are fewer restrictions this year but with Covid-19 infection numbers high, December 31st 2021 will probably be somewhere between the stripped-down 2020 version and the full-on parties of old.

What will be different?

Denmark does not currently have any restrictions on public assembly in place, but has issued recommendations in relation to New Year’s Eve parties.

The director of the Danish Health Authority, Søren Brostrøm, asked the public earlier in December to “avoid big celebrations on New Year’s Eve”.

“If many of you are already thinking about New Year’s Eve, I’d clearly say you should not make plans for huge celebrations,” he said.

“We are asking you to stick to seeing as few people as possible,” the senior health official added.

Nightlife and alcohol sales are subject to restrictions under the Covid-19 rules currently in place.

Sales of alcohol at bars, restaurants and other licensed establishments are banned after 10pm, while establishments must close by 11pm.

General sales of alcohol are currently banned between 10pm and 5am.

What will be the same?

Some of the most-loved Danish New Year’s Eve traditions can go ahead as usual, not least because many take place in the comfort of homes and in front of TV sets. 

The 90th Birthday

Also known as Dinner for One, this ancient 11-minute black-and-white comedy sketch is shown year after year in Danish homes as the old year ticks to a close.

Virtually unknown in the rest of the world, the British-made skit from 1963 is loved in Germany and Scandinavia – not least in Denmark and Sweden.

Don’t forget to join in with the catchphrases: “The same procedure as last year, Miss Sophie?”

“The same procedure as every year, James!”

The Queen’s speech

Queen Margrethe addresses the nation every year at 6pm on December 31st, just as New Year festivities are getting into full swing.

The monarch’s annual message often touches on ethical and cultural topics, as well as the need for solidarity in society. The Queen also customarily takes time to thank Danish servicemen based abroad.

When Her Majesty signs off with her famous “God save Denmark” (Gud bevare Danmark) line, it will be time for dinner. 

Jump into the New Year

When the big moment comes, many people will get up on a chair so that they can literally jump into the new year.

Given the volume of schnapps likely to have been consumed by this point, ankles and coffee tables alike can be put at considerable risk by this custom — but that doesn’t make it any less fun.

Fireworks

As the evening progresses, a steady flow of fireworks are set off by impatient souls who can’t wait for the chimes of midnight. And we’re not talking about professional firework shows here, but rather the private arsenal of Danes who spend the evening firing off increasingly ear-splitting rockets.

At midnight, this pyrotechnic show is taken up more than just a notch – the thunderous sound of firecrackers keeps the skies alive well into the early morning hours. It’s a custom not without some opposition.

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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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