When will Norway lift its remaining Covid-19 measures?

The relaxing of Norway’s main Covid rules will likely come next week, Health Minister Ingvild Kjerkol said Wednesday, in addition to offering a rough time frame on when other restrictions could be lifted.

Crowds of people in Karl Johan Street.
A relaxation of the Covid-19 rules could come as early next week, Health Minister Ingvild Kjerkol said. Pictured are groups of people on Karl Johan. Photo by Nick Night on Unsplash

The government will hold a press conference next week where it will announce the easing of the current Covid-19 rules, health minister Ingvild Kjerkol told broadcaster TV2.

“We have said at the beginning of next week we will make an assessment of the overall measures. We can see that we can tolerate more infection now, so everyone can prepare for it (the easing of restrictions),” Kjerkol told TV2.

The health minister said that the country’s Covid rules would be eased over a relatively short period of time when asked by the broadcaster whether most measures could be lifted in a month’s time.

“It sounds like a likely scenario (that most measures are lifted within a month). We will come back when we have a message about what easing will come and in what order,” she told the broadcaster.

The health minister said that due to Omicron being milder than other variants, measures could be lifted despite rising infection rates. When it announced its last relaxation of the Covid rules at a press conference on January 14th, the government said it would reassess the restrictions at the turn of the month.

The government makes its decisions regarding the Covid rules based on professional advice from the country’s health authorities, the Norwegian Institute of Public Health (NIPH) and the Norwegian Directorate of Health.

READ MORE: Norway to scrap Covid-19 entry quarantine for all travellers

In an updated risk assessment on the current wave of infection, the NIPH essentially gave the government the green light to ease more restrictions going forward by saying that most rules could be gradually phased out in the coming weeks.

“Most measures against the epidemic can now gradually be reduced over a short period of time without, in the long run, leading to a significantly increased disease burden. The measures with the greatest burden on children and young people should be removed first,” the NIPH wrote in its risk assessment.

On Wednesday, the government scrapped its entry quarantine rules for all arrivals, regardless of vaccination status. 

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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.