Norway, Netherlands, Malta to ease curbs

·3-min read

Coronavirus pandemic restrictions are being eased in Norway, the Netherlands and Malta even though infection numbers remain high.

The Norwegian government will partly reverse a ban on serving alcohol in bars and restaurants, one of several policy changes as it seeks to relax COVID-19 restrictions, the prime minister said on Thursday.

"We can ease some restrictions but not all," Jonas Gahr Stoere told a news conference.

Bars and restaurants will be able to serve alcoholic drinks until 11pm, a partial reversal of the total ban introduced in December which has hit the country's hospitality industry hard.

An outbreak of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus in late November was traced back to a super spreader event at a restaurant in central Oslo, which led the Norwegian government to reintroduce some restrictions to curb the spread.

But while the number of hospitalisations rose in the Nordic country last month following a surge of COVID-19 infections, it has now fallen for several weeks even as more people tested positive for the virus.

Children will face fewer restrictions, making it easier to avoid home schooling.

Youth sports activities will also be allowed to resume, although adult sports will still be restricted, the government said.

Quarantines will in many cases be replaced by a mandatory test regime, it added.

Restrictions in the Netherlands will be eased from Saturday despite a wave of new infections due to the Omicron variant, Dutch media reported on Thursday.

Non-essential stores, hairdressers and gyms will be allowed to reopen for a limited number of customers, broadcasters NOS and RTL said, citing government sources.

Students will be welcomed back to their colleges and universities.

Bars, restaurants, theatres, museums and other public places will remain closed.

The government will decide formally on the changes on Friday.

Public places, except essential stores, have been shut since mid-December as hospitals struggled to deal with a wave of COVID-19 patients caused by the Delta variant.

Hospital numbers have since improved but are expected to rise again in the coming weeks as new infections have jumped to record levels since Omicron became the dominant variant.

The improved situation in hospitals increased pressure on the government to ease restrictions, especially from shopkeepers in areas close to the German and Belgian borders who said customers now went abroad for their shopping.

Local authorities in the south and east of the Netherlands this week said they would not intervene if shops chose to ignore orders to close.

Malta on Thursday also announced an easing of COVID-19 restrictions, dropping mandatory mask-wearing for people outdoors in groupings of not more than two.

Health Minister Chris Fearne told reporters 70 per cent of Malta residents would have received a booster dose of COVID-19 vaccine by the weekend, and therefore medical authorities could relax some curbs from Monday while adapting others.

He confirmed that, from January 17, most venues including restaurants, bars and gyms would require patrons to produce a certificate showing they had had a COVID-19 vaccine and a booster.

A rule requiring restaurants to have a space of two metres between tables is being lifted.

However all employees in venues such as restaurants and bars who come into contact with clients must be vaccinated and have had a booster dose.

This mandatory requirement, the minister said, would not be extended to other areas.

Spectators are to be allowed to return to sports venues, as long as they produce a vaccination certificate which includes the booster shot.

Fearne said that 92 per cent of Malta's COVID-19 cases are now of the Omicron variant but the situation at hospitals remained well under control.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting