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COVID-19 RULES

Danish PM expects coming winter without Covid-19 lockdowns

Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said on Wednesday that the Danish government and health authorities do not expect severe social restrictions such as lockdowns to be necessary should Covid-19 cases surge during the coming winter.

Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen
Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said Covid-19 lockdowns are not expected by authorities during the winter of 2022/23. Photo: Mads Claus Rasmussen/Ritzau Scanpix

Frederiksen outlined expectations at a briefing during which Denmark’s strategy for responding to an expected resurgence of the coronavirus during the colder months was presented.

READ ALSO: Denmark to offer all over-50s autumn Covid-19 vaccine

“We both hope and are working towards us not having to go through lockdowns, and that applies to all parts of our society,” she said.

Restrictions and lockdowns were used in Denmark during waves of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 and 2021. March and April 2020, as well as a period stretching from December 2020 to February 2021, saw the strictest rules in place, including widespread closures of non-essential stores, entertainment and culture and limits on public assembly.

The winter of 2021-2022 also saw some rules in place including face masks, Covid passes and limited opening hours for bars and restaurants, but these were fully lifted in early February this year.

Frederiksen said that she did not expect the strictest of those interventions – lockdowns – to be repeated this winter, but stressed nothing could be guaranteed.

Wednesday’s Covid-19 briefing was the first of its kind by the Danish government for several months.

The Prime Minister said that lockdowns are not expected to be necessary because of the high rate of vaccination amongst Danish residents during the Covid-19 pandemic.

She did not comment on whether a lesser measure such as face masks would be required again at some point.

“The most important tool is still the vaccines. They showed their value last winter,” she said.

“But we also know that the protection given by vaccines fall off over time and that health authorities expect a new (Covid-19) wave,” she said.

Senior government and health officials alike guaranteed at the briefing that no restrictions of any kind would return this summer.

Recent weeks have seen Covid-19 cases climbing in Denmark due to the emergence of a new subvariant of the Omicron variant.

This summer will be the first since 2019 with all major music festivals, including the Roskilde Festival, the largest in northern Europe. Denmark is also set to host the first stage of the Tour de France, an event expected to attract many spectators.

“As far as the risk to Denmark is concerned, there are no thoughts on our part of restrictions on the big events,” Danish Health Authority director Søren Brostrøm said.

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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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