Norway to reinstate Covid-19 certificate as virus cases surge

Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre said on Friday the country would reintroduce its coronavirus health pass, the Covid-19 certificate, amid a rise in new infections.

Pictured is Tromsø, northern Norway.
Tromsø which has experienced a spike in Covid-19 cases will reintroduce the Covid-19 certificate from next week. Photo by Chris on Unsplash

Municipalities in Norway would be able to reintroduce the use of domestic Covid-19 certificates to access big events and venues such as nightclubs following a rise in coronavirus infections in the country in recent weeks.

PM Støre said that Covid-19 certificates would be used to avoid lockdowns and stricter national measures.

“This means that you can live as normally as possible, even if there is a lot of infection in society,” he said at a government press conference.

The city of Tromsø, northern Norway, which has been experiencing a spike in infections, said it would be introducing the use of a Covid-19 certificate from as early as Tuesday next week. 

Covid-19 certificates previously flashed green when scanned if you had been vaccinated with one dose more than three weeks ago, have had corona detected in the last six months or have taken a negative test in the last 24 hours. 

It was also announced that unvaccinated healthcare workers will also be asked to wear face masks and test for the virus twice a week. 

“We want regular testing of unvaccinated health personnel and a clear message that they must wear face masks,” health minister Ingvild Kjerkol said 

There would also be a change in the testing rules for members of the public who are unvaccinated, not just healthcare professionals.

Unvaccinated close contacts of those who catch Covid would need to test daily for seven days from when they last had contact with the person infected with coronavirus. This new rule will come into effect from November 16th. This rule will apply to over 18s.

“If you are unvaccinated and live with somebody who is diagnosed with coronavirus, you must be tested every day with a home-test or every other day with a PCR test for seven days. The test obligation applies until seven days have passed since the last time they had close contact. So this is not just a recommendation, but a duty,” Kjerkol said.

Norway, which earlier lifted all Covid-19 restrictions in late September, will also propose a third vaccine dose for people over 18.

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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.