Norway lifts alcohol ban as Covid rules eased

The nationwide ban on the sale of alcohol in bars and restaurants will be lifted and replaced with reduced serving hours, the government announced Thursday as part of a easing of the national Covid restrictions.

A person pouring a pint.
The Norwegian governemnt has lifted the alcohol ban which has been in place since mid-December. Pictured is somebody pouring a pint. Photo by Louis Hansel on Unsplash

Norway’s government will relax a number of its national Covid-19 rules, including the nationwide ban on the sale of alcohol in hospitality, which will be replaced with reduced serving hours for alcoholic beverages. Cafes, pubs and restaurants and other licensed venues will be allowed to serve alcohol until 11pm.

“Today, we can ease many of the measures that came four weeks ago,” Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre said at a government press conference.

The alcohol ban will be lifted and replaced with the new rules from Friday. The sale of alcohol in bars and restaurants will be confined to table service to reduce the number of guests coming into contact with one another.

Additionally, the number of people allowed to gather at private events in public settings, for example, restaurant bookings, will be increased to 30.

In a public setting without fixed seats, up to 30 can attend. When fixed designated seating is in place, the limit will be 200.

The government will retain the recommendation for the public to have no more than ten guests at home. Kindergarten children and primary school-age children are not included in the total.

The rules for face masks and social distancing will remain the same, however, as well as the advice for people to work from home where possible. Venues will also still be required to take guest’s contact details when consent to do so is given.

Close contacts of those who test positive for the virus and are not household members will no longer have to quarantine and are asked to test on days 3 and 5 after being identified as a close contact. They are also asked to keep an eye out for symptoms for 10 days.

The national recommendation for schools and kindergartens to operate at yellow level, meaning reduced class sizes and social distancing must be implemented, will be scrapped. Instead, local authorities can choose which infection control level schools operate at.

High schools and adult education centres will no longer be required to operate at the red level, which saw partial online classes. The new rules for schools take effect on Saturday.

The rules for children and young people partaking in sports outside have been lifted, for young people exercising indoors a maximum group size of 20 and social distancing is recommended. 

For those aged over 20 exercising indoors the same capacity and social distancing recommendations apply. 

The new rules will be in place until the beginning of next month.

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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.