Norway announces tighter Covid-19 isolation rules for suspected Omicron cases 

People who test positive for or are believed to be infected with the Omicron Covid-19 variant will need to isolate for longer than others with the virus, Norway's government announced on Monday. 

Pictured is a busy street along Bergen's harbour.
The government has announced tighter isolation rules for those who test positive for the Omicron variant. Photo by Darya Tryfanava on Unsplash Pictured is Bergen harbour.

The Norwegian government has announced new isolation rules to try and prevent the spread of the Omicron variant, recently detected in southern Africa and not yet detected in Norway. 

“It is likely that the new Omicron variant is more contagious than the Delta variant. The experience from the coronavirus pandemic so far is that virus variants with increased infectivity will spread to all countries, including Norway. To limit and delay the spread in this country, we are therefore introducing a number of offensive measures,” health minister Ingvild Kjerkol said in a government announcement

People who test positive for the Omicron coronavirus variant will need to self-isolate for seven days, as well as those believed to be infected with the variant. 

Infection quarantine will also be enforced on household members of those infected with the Omicron variant. The isolation period will last for ten days, and those quarantining will be required to take a PCR test as soon as possible and once again on day seven. 

Close contacts will also need to take a PCR test on days three and seven, and if possible, avoid close contact with other people until the first test returns negative. 

These measures will apply regardless of vaccination status or immunity built up through prior infection. However, the new rules won’t apply once it’s proved that the infection is not the Omicron variant. 

The regular rules, which differ depending on vaccination status, apply to those who test positive with other variants. 

READ ALSO: ‘Concerning’ Omicron variant could lead to tighter Covid-19 rules in Norway

The new isolation rules follow new border restrictions introduced against several African countries this weekend. 

On Monday, the World Health Organization said the new Covid-19 Omicron variant poses a “very high” risk globally and stressed that uncertainties remained about how contagious and dangerous the strain was. 

“If another major surge of Covid-19 takes place driven by Omicron, consequences may be severe,” WHO said in a technical note, adding though that “to date, no deaths linked to Omicron variant have been reported.”

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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.