News this week that Denmark will end virus restrictions from the beginning of February and reclassify Covid-19 as a disease that no longer poses a threat to society has given the shipping industry a glimpse of a possible end to the pandemic restraints which have caused severe hardships to hundreds of thousands at sea over the past two years.
Danish prime minister Mette Frederiksen (pictured) made the announcement while Covid cases remain very high in the country, but her point of view – that Covid is endemic, not a pandemic – is one gaining acceptance across much of Europe.
Frederiksen said the country’s high vaccination rate provided protection against the far less lethal omicron variant.
The case load is spiking in many countries but with little to no impact on hospitalisations and deaths
“We are saying farewell to the restrictions and welcome to life as we knew it before coronavirus,” Frederiksen told a press conference earlier this week.
Several other European countries, including France, Ireland and the United Kingdom, have announced the lifting or a considerable reduction of their restrictions, despite record or very high cases.
Looking at the news from Hong Kong, one of the cities with the strictest anti-Covid measures in the world, Bjorn Hojgaard, the Danish CEO of shipmanagement giant Anglo-Eastern Univan Group, told Splash that he was hopeful the tide was turning for seafarers and their freedom of movement.
“It seems increasingly clear that with relatively high vaccine coverage and as omicron is crowding out other variants, the case load is spiking in many countries but with little to no impact on hospitalisations and deaths. That would indeed mean that Covid is becoming endemic rather than pandemic, and it seems reasonable to believe that it will lead to widespread abolishment of travel and social restrictions etc,” Hojgaard told Splash today.
Hojgaard suggested that this would be the trend over the next few weeks and months.
“That’s indeed good news for the crew change crisis to finally see light at the end of the tunnel,” Hojgaard said, warning that there may be pockets of countries, especially in Asia, where it will take longer to adopt to this new reality.
“I am hopeful that we are turning a corner and that the second half of this year will be much different than the last two years have been for the people at the coalface of our industry: the seafarers. They surely deserve a break,” Hojgaard said.
Esben Poulsson, chairman of the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), told Splash that he hoped more governments follow the Danish lead and treat omnicron and related stains as becoming endemic.
“Too many governments have not lived up to their commitments under the Maritime Labour Convention and that has caused tremendous practical challenges for seafarers, shipowners and managers,” Poulsson said.