Norway further tightens Covid rules with nationwide alcohol ban in bars

The Norwegian government announced further Covid restrictions on Monday including a ban on the sale of alcohol in bars and restaurants across the country in a big to gain control over the pandemic.

A shopping street in Oslo
The government announced stricter measures in order to combat rising Covid-19 cases. Pictured is an empty street in Oslo. Photo by tarreha on Unsplash

The sale of alcohol in pubs, bars, restaurants and clubs will be prohibited from Wednesday across the country as part of a further tightening of measures. 

Additionally, people are being ordered to work from home where possible and tighter restrictions will be introduced in schools.

The government announced the stricter restrictions at a press conference on Monday evening. 

“Infection rates in Norway are increasing sharply, and we have now gained new knowledge about the omicron variant and how fast it can spread. We are in a more serious situation. The government is therefore introducing stricter measures to maintain control of the pandemic,” PM Jonas Gahr Støre said. 

The tighter measures come following weeks of rising infections and several outbreaks of the Omicron Covid-19 variant.  

All primary and lower secondary schools would be moved to yellow level, and all upper secondary schools and adult education services must be run at red level.

Yellow level means social distancing, assigned seating plans for each student, no physical contact between individuals and minimising mixing between different classes to limit the spread of Covid-19.

Red level sees measures such as much smaller class sizes or cohorts and partial online schooling being implemented. 

Universities’ and colleges would be required to facilitate digital teaching as soon as possible. 

The new measures will be introduced on Wednesday, December 15th and last for four weeks. Schools will have until the day after to move to their respective colour coded levels. 

Furthermore, it was announced that the military would be drafted in to assist municipalities with the Covid booster program. The interval between the second and third dose was also being shortened to four and a half months. Municipalities are also being encouraged to prioritise getting booster doses to employees in schools and kindergartens.  

A national ban on the sale of alcohol in bars and restaurants was last introduced by the government towards the end of March this year

Alongside the alcohol ban in venues, the government has also asked the public to spend more time at home and try and limit the number of social gatherings they attend. As well as cutting down on social gatherings the public have been recommended against using public transport to get to events.  

The government will also once again tweak the rules for self-isolation. Those living with someone who tests positive for coronavirus, regardless of the variant, would need to isolate for seven days before testing themselves. Other close contacts will need to test after day three. 

All new measures announced are in addition to the existing restrictions introduced last week which included recommended limits on guests at home and restrictions in public places.

On Monday, the Norwegian Institute of Public Health (NIPH) recommended the government move quickly to try and slow the spread of the Omicron is a risk assessment of the variant

The report warned that in a worst-case scenario, infections could reach up to between 90,000 and 300,000 per day in January unless effective measures were implemented.

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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.