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COVID-19 RULES

Denmark says schools ‘safe to send children back to’ amid high Covid infections

Denmark’s schools minister Pernille Rosenkrantz-Theil on Tuesday backed the decision to reopen schools on schedule with classes to resume on January 5th amid high Covid-19 infection numbers across the country.

Denmark’s schools minister Pernille Rosenkrantz-Theil  speaks to media as children return to schools amid high Covid-19 case rates nationally on January 4th 2022.
Denmark’s schools minister Pernille Rosenkrantz-Theil speaks to media as children return to schools amid high Covid-19 case rates nationally on January 4th 2022. File photo: Mads Claus Rasmussen/Ritzau Scanpix

In a briefing at the Ministry of Children and Education, Rosenkrantz-Theil said it was “safe to send the children back”.

The minister cited better and more options to help control the spread of the coronavirus in comparison to the beginning of 2021, when schools were closed amid a broader national lockdown.

Covid-19 infection numbers were considerably lower 12 months ago than at the beginning of 2022, but the vaccination programme was still in its infancy.

The number of people in hospital with Covid-19 in Denmark on Tuesday was 794, an increase of 24 compared to Monday. The highest total of infections last winter was 964, registered exactly a year ago on January 4th 2021.

READ ALSO: Denmark has most Covid-19 hospital patients since January 2021

These include home tests, which are now offered to children and staff at schools. Twice weekly testing is advised by health authorities.

“My hope is that as many people as possible will say yes to being tested. But we don’t yet know how many will accept this,” Rosenkrantz-Theil said.

The government will closely monitor infections at schools, she also said.

Although home testing is known to be less accurate at detecting Covid-19 than PCR tests, the minister stressed it was a strong tool in the effort to keep infections under control and help schools to remain open.

Children or others who return a positive home test must take a PCR test to confirm whether they are infected with Covid-19.

Parents are also asked to drop their children off outside schools rather than accompany them inside, while children will be kept with their class group with limited mixing between classes.

The deputy director of the Danish Health Authority, Helene Probst, said that an increase in infections related to the return of schools from the Christmas break was “unavoidable”.

She also encouraged parents to get children vaccinated. Vaccinations “can prevent transmission” of Covid-19, Probst said.

Children who display symptoms should not be sent to school and close contacts – people who live with them – should likewise be kept at home, she added.

Head of department and senior consultant at the State Serum Institute (SSI), Tyra Grove Krause, said at the briefing that Covid-19 infections “are currently increasing in all age groups and can be expected to increase further.”

In comments given to Danish broadcasters on Monday, Krause said that infections driven by the dominant Micron variant “will peak at the end of January, and February will see falling infection numbers and a reduction in strain on the health system.”

READ ALSO: Covid-19: Denmark could return to ‘normal life in two months’

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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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