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COVID-19

Denmark does not rule out new travel restrictions after Omicron variant detected

Health Minister Magnus Heunicke said that Denmark was not planning new social Covid-19 restrictions at the current time after two cases of the new variant Omicron were confirmed in the country. But additional restrictions on travel to the country were not ruled out.

Danish health minister Magnus Heunicke said on Sunday that the government has no current plans to add new social restrictions i in response the Omicron variant of Covid-19, but could widen travel bans.
Danish health minister Magnus Heunicke said on Sunday that the government has no current plans to add new social restrictions i in response the Omicron variant of Covid-19, but could widen travel bans. Photo: Nils Meilvang/Ritzau Scanpix

Heunicke said on Sunday evening the new social restrictions “are not something we are considering specifically at the current time”, in comments to news wire Ritzau.

Restrictions agreed in parliament last week and taking effect today, including face mask use and broadened coronapas (Covid-19 health pass) rules, are “sufficient” according to the government and health authorities, the minister said.

“(The new restrictions) are what our authorities and we believe are sufficient in the situation in which we find ourselves now. It’s an unpredictable time and this new variant also underlines that,” he said.

READ ALSO: IN BRIEF: The Covid-19 rules which take effect in Denmark on November 29th

“We have openly said that we are following this very closely and we will do what is needed when it is needed. Nobody has an interest in Denmark being locked down again. The entire strategy is for us to have an open society with infections under control,” the minister added.

Two cases of infection with the variant have been confirmed in persons who travelled from South Africa to Denmark, broadcaster DR and other Danish media reported on Sunday.

Health authorities are undertaking extensive contact tracing including the close contacts of close contacts – also referred to as “third link” to the confirmed cases.

Heunicke said Denmark’s strategy was to delay the spread of the variant as much as possible, with suggestions that it could be more transmissible than the currently-dominant Delta variant, albeit with data so far limited.

“The last variants that took over actually did so vary, very quickly,” Heunicke said.

“If this one is more transmissible it will in all probability eventually take over, so it is crucial that we delay its introduction” to give time for vaccination and booster levels to be increased, he continued.

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As such, additional restrictions on travel into Denmark could be considered.

Currently, Denmark advises against travel to 10 countries. South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia and Eswatini were placed under restrictions late last week.

An additional three African countries — Angola, Malawi and Zimbabwe — were added to that list on Monday morning, the Ministry of Health said in a statement, citing a “principle of caution” and the detection of the Omicron variant in Malawi.

Travel to Denmark from the 10 countries is only permissible if one of a narrow range of “worthy purpose” criteria is fulfilled. Requirements to test and isolate for 10 days would also then apply to the traveller. A negative test on day four allows the person to leave isolation under Danish rules.

Travel restrictions could be applied to additional countries, Heunicke said on Sunday, without specifying which countries may come into consideration for this and prior to the addition of the latter three African countries to the list.

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COVID-19 RULES

Will Italy drop its Covid isolation rule as the infection rate falls?

The health ministry is reviewing its quarantine requirements as the country's Covid-19 health situation improved again this week, according to Italian media reports.

Will Italy drop its Covid isolation rule as the infection rate falls?

Italy has taken a more cautious approach to Covid in recent months than many of its European neighbours, keeping strict isolation rules in place for anyone who tests positive for the virus.

But this could be set to change in the coming days, according to media reports, as one of Italy’s deputy health ministers said the government is about to cut the isolation period for asymptomatic cases.

“Certainly in the next few days there will be a reduction in isolation for those who are positive but have no symptoms,” Deputy Health Minister Andrea Costa said in a TV interview on the political talk show Agorà on Tuesday.

“We have to manage to live with the virus,” he said.

Italy’s La Stampa newspaper reported that the compulsory isolation period could be reduced to 48 hours for those who test positive but remain asymptomatic – provided they subsequently test negative after the day two mark.

Under Italy’s current rules, vaccinated people who test positive must stay in isolation for at least seven days, and unvaccinated people for ten days – regardless of whether or not they have any symptoms.

READ ALSO: How tourists and visitors can get a coronavirus test in Italy

At the end of the isolation period, the patient has to take another test to exit quarantine. Those who test negative are free to leave; those who remain positive must stay in isolation until they get a negative test result, up to a maximum of 21 days in total (at which point it doesn’t matter what the test result says).

Health ministry sources indicated the new rules would cut the maximum quarantine period to 15 or even 10 days for people who continue to test positive after the initial isolation period is up, La Stampa said.

The government is believed to be reviewing the rules as the latest official data showed Covid infection and hospitalisation rates were slowing again this week, as the current wave of contagions appeared to have peaked in mid-July.

However, the national Rt number (which shows the rate of transmission) remained above the epidemic threshold, and the number of fatalities continued to rise.

The proposed changes still aren’t lenient enough for some parties. Regional authorities have been pushing for an end to quarantine altogether, even for people who are actively positive – an idea Costa appears sympathetic to.

“The next step I think is to consider the idea of even eliminating the quarantine, perhaps by wearing a mask and therefore being able to go to work,” he told reporters.

“We must review the criteria for isolation, to avoid blocking the country again”.

At least one health expert, however, was unenthusiastic about the proposal.

Dr Nino Cartabellotta, head of Italy’s evidence-based medicine group Gimbe, tweeted on Tuesday: “There are currently no epidemiological or public health reasons to abolish the isolation of Covid-19 positives”

Massimo Andreoni, professor of Infectious Diseases at the Faculty of Medicine and Surgery of the Tor Vergata University of Rome, was more ambivalent about the prospect.

The isolation requirement for asymptomatic cases should be “revised somewhat in the light of the epidemiological data”, he told reporters, but urged “a minimum of precaution, because the less the virus circulates and the fewer severe cases there are, the fewer new variants arise”.

When the question was last raised at the end of June, Health Minister Roberto Speranza was firmly against the idea of lifting quarantine requirements for people who were Covid positive.

“At the moment such a thing is not in question,” he told newspaper La Repubblica at the time. “Anyone who is infected must stay at home.”

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