Denmark and Norway lift COVID rules, even though new cases are soaring
By Cora Engelbrecht and Lynsey Chutel
Norway and Denmark lifted most of their remaining COVID-19 restrictions earlier this week, doing so even though reports of new coronavirus cases have been rising in both countries.
In Denmark, mask mandates are no longer required. Nightclubs will reopen. And it will be up to businesses and venues to decide whether to go on requiring patrons to have health passes showing vaccination or recent recovery.
And in Norway, working from home will no longer be required, and the cap of 10 visitors in private homes is ending, Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store said Tuesday.
The moves come as both countries deal with recent spikes in cases because of the omicron variant. Neither has seen a corresponding rise in hospitalizations.
“Even if many more people are becoming infected, there are fewer who are hospitalized,” Store said at a news conference Tuesday. “We’re well protected by vaccines.”
The Danish government, meanwhile, has said it no longer considers COVID-19 a “socially critical disease” — a political designation that allows officials to enforce broad measures like business closures and mask mandates — in part because of the country’s high vaccination rate.
A mutated version of the omicron variant known as BA. 2 has been fueling a surge in Denmark, the Statens Serum Institut recently reported, and the country has recently averaged about 44,000 new cases a day, about 70% more than two weeks ago. Roughly 80% of the population is fully vaccinated and about 60% have had an additional dose as well, according to Our World in Data, a project at the University of Oxford.
Denmark is among the first European Union members to abandon pandemic restrictions in favor of treating the virus as endemic. Austria ended its COVID-19 rules for unvaccinated people Monday, and the Netherlands is relaxing the restrictions it adopted in December, which were among the strictest in the bloc.
Outside the union, England has scrapped most of its remaining pandemic restrictions over the past week.
In other developments around the world:
— With its omicron-driven wave of infections having largely subsided, South Africa said Monday that it would bring all public school students back to classrooms full time and would relax some quarantine and isolation rules. People who have tested positive or had contact with an infected person will no longer have to isolate if they have no symptoms, and those who do have symptoms will be required to isolate for a minimum of seven days rather than 10, the government said Monday. Schoolchildren in South Africa had been attending school on a rotating basis to provide more social distance. Although less than one-third of the population is fully vaccinated, the government said in a statement that the changes were possible because surveys showed that a large majority have developed some immunity to the virus through either vaccination or exposure.
— Spain on Tuesday took a major step toward producing its own COVID-19 vaccine, as its national drug agency approved the last stage of trials for a vaccine developed by Hipra, a Spanish pharmaceutical company. Diana Morant, Spain’s science minister, said Hipra’s vaccine was designed to combat different variants of the coronavirus. The minister said Hipra’s progress was an important achievement “in a country that had no company making or taking part in the process of human vaccines before the pandemic.” If the vaccine gets the European Union’s regulatory approval to distribute the vaccine, Hipra is hoping to produce 600 million doses by the end of 2022.