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COVID-19

UPDATE: How could Norway’s Covid-19 restrictions be tightened this week? 

Following several outbreaks of the Omicron Covid-19 variant, Norway's government is considering tightening its national, regional and travel coronavirus rules, and the country's health minister said that new measures would be decided upon on Tuesday.

Pictured is Bergen's world famous harbour.
Norway's health minister has said new national, regional and travel rules could be on the way this week. Pictured is Bergen where tighter measures have been brought in. Photo by Florencia Viadana on Unsplash

More Covid-19 restrictions are on their way in Norway after the country’s health minister confirmed to public broadcaster NRK that the decision on more measures would be made Tuesday. 

“Tomorrow, we will come up with a new measure because we have got a situation with a lot of infection with the Delta variant. In addition, we have the Omicron variant that spread quickly,” Ingvild Kjerkol, health minister, told NRK

Kjerkol said the measures would be noticeable in everyday life. 

“There will be measures we will notice in our everyday lives,” the health minister told the public broadcaster. 

She said contact reducing measures were needed due to some parts of the health service struggling with capacity. 

Earlier on Monday, the minister told newspaper VG that the government and health authorities were looking at new measures. 

The assessment of the current restrictions and recommendations comes after weeks of rising Covid-19 cases and several outbreaks of the recently discovered Omicron variant, which early research indicates is more infectious than other variants. 

“We have control of the pandemic, but there have been several outbreaks with suspected Omicron cases. We have a regulation associated with cases where the variant (Omicron) is suspected, with longer isolation for household members. I am concerned, and we are looking at further measures regionally and nationally,” Kjerkol told VG

So far, tighter measures have been enforced in Oslo, its surrounding areas, and parts of west Norway, including Bergen. 

At a national level, people have been encouraged to use face masks in certain settings, drop handshakes, and work from home for parts of the week where possible. 

The health minister said that the countries health authorities were already looking at more curbs both locally and nationally. 

READ ALSO: What to expect if you are travelling to and from Norway this Christmas

“Now our agencies, the Norwegian Institute of Public Health and the Norwegian Directorate of Health, have ongoing talks to assess several regional and national measures. We are following the situation closely,” she explained. 

The health minister added that new measures could come this week if necessary. 

“I won’t rule out that more and stricter measures will come this week. We are following it (the infection situation) continuously and are in close dialogue with the professional authorities,” the health minister said. 

The health minister didn’t say what measures could be introduced nationally or regionally. The government’s infection control strategy this winter has primarily been to try and limit social contact and transmission of the disease without having to enforce stricter and more intrusive measures. 

In addition, Kjerkol said that new travel rules were also being looked at both for domestic trips and international arrivals. 

“We are looking at both (domestic and international rules). We have not decided anything on that but assess it based on whether there are new outbreaks. We have (already) introduced a number of entry measures for those who come to Norway,” she said.

“There is a test obligation and entry registration for both the unvaccinated and vaccines and quarantine hotels for arrivals from southern Africa with a high incidence of Omicron.”

The health minister could offer more solid details on the possibility of the interval between the second and third doses of Covid vaccines being reduced. Kjerkol said that health authorities were looking at the prospect of shortening the interval for those under-65 to speed up the booster program. 

Currently, the interval is six months for those aged under 65 and five months for over-65s. The government was mulling over reducing the interval for under-65s to five months. 

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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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