Authorities in Denmark on Friday proposed new restrictions to limit the spread of Omicron, including masking up in public places and closing conference centers and entertainment venues, though the government shied away from imposing a full lockdown.
“In record time, the rules of the game have again been changed,” Denmark’s Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said at a news conference, with Danish health officials saying Omicron accounts for around 20 percent of all new daily registered infections.
Health Minister Magnus Heunicke told journalists that there have been 11,559 Omicron cases registered in Denmark to date, with 2,550 in the last 24 hours. The European country on Friday recorded its highest overall number of new daily infections of COVID-19, the disease caused by the CCP (Chinese Communist Party), logging 11,194 cases. Death and hospitalization rates, however, remain at around half the level of last year’s peak.
Danish authorities plan to tighten capacity limits in stores, require masks in public places, and shut venues like cinemas, theaters, conference centers, and entertainment parks. They’re also proposing a ban on serving alcohol after 10 p.m., with the new restrictions subject to approval by lawmakers in the country’s parliament.
Frederiksen insisted the measures are “not a complete closure of the society, as we saw last winter,” adding that the intention is “to keep as much of society open as possible.”
Soren Brostrom, head of Denmark’s health authority, said that the proposed new restrictions were a precautionary measure as Omicron’s transmissibility and virulence have yet to be firmly established.
“I hope we’ll be pleasantly surprised and someone comes along at a later time and tells us, that we did too much and it (Omicron) was not that dangerous,” he told journalists.
“We just cannot afford to assume that. The opposite could also be the case,” he added.
Last month, the World Health Organization (WHO) dubbed Omicron a “variant of concern,” noting it appeared to be highly contagious.
“According to scientific studies, this virus is spreading quicker than in previous waves, but the rates of hospitalizations and deaths remain relatively low,” South Africa’s Ministry of Health said in a news release Thursday.
But a new study by Imperial College in London found “no evidence” of Omicron causing less severe disease than Delta, though it noted that hospitalization data remains “very limited at this time.”
The study also found that the risk of reinfection with the Omicron variant is over five times higher than with Delta, which implies that the protection against Omicron afforded by prior infection could be as low as 19 percent.
The new findings could boost appetite among European leaders to roll out tighter restrictions in a bid to quell the spread of the new variant. Germany and Ireland were on Friday poised to impose new restrictions, with Irish authorities considering measures like closing bars and restaurants early, while Germany is mulling requiring a two-week quarantine for travelers from the UK.
France on Thursday banned nonessential travel to and from the UK and tightened testing requirements for travelers in the face of a surge of Omicron cases in Britain.
Omicron is expected to become the most dominant strain in the United States within a few weeks, according to White House COVID-19 adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci, who warned that hospitals risk becoming overwhelmed.
Reuters contributed to this report.