Europe Covid: Norway bans alcohol sales to combat Omicron

Omicron gets serious – Norway brings in BOOZE BAN: Bars are ordered to stop selling alcohol – but can stay open – after government warned variant was a ‘contagion bomb’

  • Norway will ban bars and restaurants from selling alcohol for at leas four weeks
  • Measure will take effect from midnight Tuesday to tackle Omicron Covid spread 
  • Access to gyms and swimming pools is being restricted, mask mandates are being extended, and staff told to work from home where possible 
  • Comes after health chiefs warned of a ‘contagion bomb’ if nothing is done 

Norway has banned alcohol sales in hospitality venues as the country’s leaders race to impose new curbs to try and slow the spread of the Omicron variant. 

Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store said that, from midnight tonight, bars and restaurants will be banned from selling booze for at least four weeks but will be allowed to remain open as part of a package of new Covid measures.

Staff have also been told to work from home where possible, mask mandates are being extended and access to public swimming pools and gyms restricted. 

‘For many this will feel like a lockdown,’ Mr Store admitted, but insisted the measures are necessary to prevent a ‘serious’ situation where Delta and Omicron cases combine to overwhelm the country’s hospitals.

It comes after health chiefs warned of a ‘contagion bomb’ with up to 300,000 cases per day and 200 hospital admissions if nothing is done.    

Norway will ban bars and restaurants from selling alcohol for at least four weeks but will allow them to remain open to combat the spread of Omicron Covid (a graph shows case rises)

Health chiefs in Norway have warned of a ‘contagion bomb’ that could overwhelm hospitals as deaths from the virus rise, though remain below 10 per day

In nearby Denmark the situation is worsening as scientists have warned that the Omicron variant could become dominant within days. 

Denmark is second worldwide only to the UK in confirmed cases of Omicron, with both countries having extensive sequencing of samples to detect variants quickly. 

Denmark has recorded a total of 3,437 Omicron cases as of Monday, while the UK has recorded a total of 4,713 Omicron infections. Meanwhile, Norway recorded a total of 958 cases of the variant as of Sunday.  

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has warned that the UK is facing a ‘tidal wave’ of Omicron as it emerged that at least one person in the country has died with the variant. 

Across the Channel, France is set to be hit by a sixth Covid wave in January due to the Omicron variant, according to a leading French hospital executive. 

‘We haven’t said a word on the sixth wave, which is Omicron, which will come later, in January,’ Martin Hirsch, head of Paris’s AP-HP hospitals group, Europe’s largest hospital system, told RTL radio. 

France has recorded just 59 Omicron cases so far while Germany has recorded 77, which is much lower than the UK and Denmark. 

But this is because Britain and Denmark are tracking and modelling the spread of the variant carefully using genome sequencing. It means that the figures they are reporting may reflect what is happening elsewhere in Europe.    

Norway is setting record highs in terms of both new Covid-19 infections and hospitalisations, partly due to the spread of the Omicron variant. 

The Norwegian Institute of Public Health (FHI) issued a dire warning on Monday as it said the government must move quickly to impose further restrictions in order to stem the spread of the variant. 

‘The Omicron variant will already in December cause a wave with many sick, many hospitalisations, [putting a] significant burden on the health care system and society through, among other things, widespread sickness absence,’ the FHI said. 

They warned that unless effective measures are established, the nation of 5.4 million people risks having between 90,000 and 300,000 new Covid cases per day in the next three weeks, adding that there could be up to 200 hospital admissions every day.

On Monday, there were 358 people hospitalised with Covid in Norway – the highest number during the entire pandemic, the Norwegian Directorate of Health said.  

In the UK, Mr Johnson said on Sunday that two vaccine doses would not be enough to contain it as her urged Britons to get their booster jab. 

The Omicron variant appears to spread faster than the Delta variant, making vaccines less effective but causing less severe symptoms, the World Health Organization said Sunday, while stressing that the data remains patchy. 

Indeed, data from Denmark’s research institute Staten Serums Institute shows that of the 2,471 people infected with Omicron so far, 74.6 per cent – or 1,843 people – were double vaccinated.

It has prompted the Danish health authorities to announce on Monday that a third dose of the Covid vaccine would be offered sooner to everyone over 40 to curb the spread of the variant. 

‘Due to the new and more contagious Omicron variant the Danish Health Authority has decided to push the third jab for everyone aged 40 and above, so they get the vaccine four and half months after the second jab,’ the health authority said in a statement.

By reducing the interval of the doses, ‘we will be able to enter the winter with better protection for those at increased risk of severe disease and increased immunity in the population,’ director Soren Brostrom said.

A third dose is ‘safe and effective’ as soon as three months after the initial vaccine course, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) said last week.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson told the country last night that a wave of Omicron ‘is coming’ as he ramped up the booster drive to meet his target of delivering a million jabs a day. The PM is pictured above at a vaccination centre in Westminster, London

The UK Covid alert level was raised from level 3 to level 4 after the UK reported another 1,239 confirmed cases of the Omicron variant 

Denmark has seen a high vaccine uptake among its population of 5.8 million people, with 80.6 per cent of those over the age of five receiving two jabs already.   

In response to the surge in cases, Denmark reintroduced new restrictions last week, closing schools and colleges, curtailing nightlife and promoting remote working. 

It comes as Mads Albertsen, a professor at Aalborg University, said the Omicron variant could be dominant within days.  

Meanwhile, Norway’s Prime Minister will hold a press conference at 8pm tonight to announce new restrictions to curb the spread of the variant.  

The government on December 7 introduced a cap on the number of visitors allowed in private homes and shortened the hours bars and restaurants can serve alcohol, but additional regulation is now required.

‘The situation concerns us more than it did previously,’ Line Vold, the FHI’s head of infection control and emergency preparedness, told public broadcaster NRK.

‘We think Omicron will be the dominant variant in the coming days… We need to quickly introduce further restrictions.’

New regulations could come later on Monday, newspaper VG reported, citing unnamed sources.

To speed up vaccination with booster doses, the health ministry has asked Norway’s armed forces as well as pharmacies to assist in the inoculation campaign, VG reported. 

It comes after it emerged earlier this month that a business trip to South Africa may have sparked the world’s biggest Omicron outbreak after between 50 and 60 vaccinated people were infected at a Christmas party in Norway. 

Scatec staff had recently returned from South Africa, where the super-mutant strain was first discovered, before a meal at Louise Restaurant & Bar in Aker Brygge on Oslo’s waterfront. 

Fifty people tested positive with a PCR test and 10 with a lateral flow following the party, though so far none is thought to be seriously ill. 

Oslo authorities confirmed one positive Omicron case following the company Christmas party and said more infections were ‘expected’.

Scatec has insisted only vaccinated employees were allowed to attend the party and they needed a negative test result beforehand. 

Norwegian epidemiologists had earlier ruled out the possibility the infections are Delta variant cases and said there was a ‘high probability’ it was Omicron.   

The Christmas party was held in a closed room but the guests reportedly mingled with other people in the restaurant after 10:30pm, when it turned into a nightclub. 

At least two restaurant guests not involved in the Christmas party also later tested positive, though it is not yet clear if they were infected at the event or from a different contact. 

Ten waiters who served the table were tested after the party, but none have tested positive. But one of the company’s super-spreaders was also drinking in an Irish bar in the city the following night, raising fears more could be infected. 

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