What happened to Denmark’s supermarket checkout dividers?

The ‘divider’, a piece of plastic placed on the conveyer belt at Danish supermarket checkouts to separate shoppers’ goods from each other, disappeared in 2020 as a precaution against Covid-19. Will it return?

Supermarket checkout dividers
Supermarket checkout dividers - seen here on the left of the image - were removed at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic in Denmark and are yet to return, despite the end of national restrictions. File photo: Signe Goldmann/Ritzau Scanpix

Most of the guidelines and restrictions that became part of everyday life in Denmark during the Covid-19 pandemic are now no longer effective after the country decided to bring restrictions to an end at the beginning of February.

At that time, Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen announced the country’s return “to life as we knew it before corona”.

READ ALSO: Are any Covid-19 rules still in force in Denmark?

Whether life can ever entirely return to the way it was before Covid-19 is probably a topic for another (and longer) discussion. But one aspect of pre-Covid Denmark yet to come back is the humble piece of plastic which supermarket customers place next to the goods at checkouts, to make sure they don’t get mixed up with the next shopper’s wares.

Broadcaster DR reported on Monday that the separator or skilleren as it is referred to in Danish is unlikely to make a comeback any time soon.

There are “no immediate plans to let the product divider come back,” Jens Juul Nielsen, head of information with Coop, which owns the Fakta, SuperBrugsen, Kvickly and Irma chains, told DR.

That decision was made despite health authority assessments backing the end of Covid-19 restrictions.

Another supermarket executive also told DR that the plastic sign was not likely to be brought back.

“Restrictions have been lifted before and we kept (the decision to remove the divider) then, and that’s why we’re also doing this now,” Jacob Krogsgaard Nielsen, head of press communication with Salling Group, told DR.

Although there are no current plans to bring it back, no permanent decision has been made by the Coop group.

“It could well (come back) one day when we’ve forgotten all about corona,” Nielsen 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.