Denmark on Tuesday became one of the first European Union countries to scrap most pandemic restrictions as the Scandinavian country no longer considers the COVID-19 outbreak “a socially critical disease.”
The reason for that is that while the omicron variant is surging in Denmark, it’s not placing a heavy burden on the health system and the country has a high vaccination rate, officials have said.
Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen told Danish radio it’s too early to know if measures may have to make a comeback.
“I dare not say that it is a final goodbye to restrictions,” she said. “We do not know what will happen in the fall. Whether there will be a new variant.”
Denmark, a nation of 5.8 million, has in recent weeks seen more than 50,000 daily cases on average while the number of people in hospital intensive care units has dropped.
The head of the Danish Health Authority, Sren Brostrm, told Danish broadcaster TV2 that his attention was on the number of people in ICUs, rather than on the number of infections. He said that number had “fallen and fallen and is incredibly low.” He said 32 coronavirus patients are in ICUs. Several weeks ago, it was up at 80.
The most visible restriction disappearing is the wearing of face masks, which are no longer mandatory on public transportation, shops and for standing clients in restaurant indoor areas. Authorities only recommend mask use in hospitals, health care facilities and nursing homes.
Another restriction that no longer is required is the digital pass used to enter nightclubs, cafes, party buses and to be seated indoors in restaurants.
Health authorities urged Danes to get tested regularly so the country can “react quickly if necessary,” as Health Minister Minister Magnus Heunicke said last week.
Danes “have been very successful in our national vaccine program throughout 2021, a lot of people have received two vaccination shots, and a lot have received three doses as well, and many of those doses were provided in the fourth quarter of 2021,” Jens Lundgren, a professor of viral diseases at the Copenhagen University Hospital told The Associated Press.
More than 60% of Denmark’s population over the age of 12 have gotten the third shot, according to official figures.
The Danish government has warned that the country could see a rise in infections in the coming weeks and said that a fourth vaccination shot might be necessary.
The restrictions were originally introduced in July but were removed about 10 weeks later after a successful vaccination drive. They were reintroduced when infections soared.
In 2020, Denmark became one of the first European countries to close schools because of the pandemic and sent home all noncritical public employees. In neighbouring Finland, COVID-19 restrictions will end this month with Prime Minister Sanna Marin saying her Social Democratic-led government would negotiate with the other parties in parliament the timetable for the removal of the measures.
On Monday, border controls at the internal borders between Finland and the other Schengen countries that form Europe’s ID check-free travel area, ended. That restriction was introduced at the end of December to slow down the spread of the omicron variant. Travellers coming from outside the EU will continue to meet border controls at least until Feb. 14. February.
On Tuesday, Norwegian daily Dagbladet reported the first case of COVID-19 ever on the island of Utsira in the North Sea.
“We have avoided it for two years,” mayor Marte Eide Klovning told Dagbladet, adding that the island’s 188 inhabitants had been vaccinated. It was unclear how the virus had reached the island, sitting about 120 kilometres (75 miles) south of Bergen, Norway’s second-largest city.
Norway will also scrap most of its remaining COVID-19 lockdown measures with immediate effect as a spike in coronavirus infections is unlikely to jeopardize health services, the prime minister said on Tuesday.
Restaurants will again be allowed to serve alcohol beyond 11 o’clock at night, working from home will no longer be mandatory and the limit of 10 visitors in private homes will be removed, Jonas Gahr Stoere told a news conference.
“Even if many more people are becoming infected, there are fewer who are hospitalized. We’re well protected by vaccines. This means that we can relax many measures even as infections are rising rapidly,” Stoere said.
The announcement follows similar decisions by neighbouring Denmark and other European countries including Britain, Ireland and the Netherlands, which have eased or removed restrictions in recent weeks.
Norway in December went into partial lockdown to combat the fast-spreading Omicron coronavirus variant.
While lifting most restrictions, the country will keep basic social distancing measures, asking people to stay at least one metre apart and to wear a face mask in crowded settings, thus still hampering businesses such as nightclubs and some entertainment venues.
The easing is expected to lead to an even faster spread of the virus, and the government will continue to monitor the situation.
“We don’t know if this is the beginning of the end of the pandemic,” Stoere said, adding that future tightening was possible.
Three quarters of all Norwegians have received at least two vaccine doses against the coronavirus and half the population has also had a booster shot, the National Institute of Public Health (FHI) says.
But infections will rise when restrictions are lifted.
“We face a wave of pandemic in the next month or two,” FHI chief Camilla Stoltenberg said.
Norway eased its quarantine rules last week, replacing mandatory quarantine in many cases with a daily test regime.
Other EU countries also are relaxing measures. Ireland dropped most of its restrictions and the Netherlands also has been easing its lockdown, though Dutch bars and restaurants still have to close their doors at 10 p.m.
Italy has been gradually tightening its health pass requirements during the omicron surge. As of Monday, Italy requires at least a negative test within the previous 48 hours to enter banks and post offices, and anyone over 50 who has not been vaccinated risks a one-time 100-euro ($112) fine.
With files from Reuters
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