Foreigners in Denmark uneasy at ‘too early’ reopening

Foreigners in Denmark uneasy at 'too early' reopening
Many foreign parents worried that children do not understand social distancing. Photo: Thomas Lekfeldt/Ritzau Scanpix
Many foreigners living in Denmark seem uncomfortable at the government's decision to open kindergartens and schools for the youngest children from next week.
We contacted foreigners on the Expats in Copenhagen Facebook page, and also through a form posted on The Local — you can scroll to the bottom to respond yourself — to ask how they felt about Denmark's decision to start lifting some of its restrictions. 
 
Worried responses far outnumbered those from foreigners who supported the decision. 
 
Many feared the the decision had come too soon, and risked causing the virus to start spreading rapidly again, infecting both their children, and others in society.
 
Some had signed the petition, “My child is not a covid-19 guinea-pig“, which has received more than 11,500 signatures in less than 24 hours since it was set up. 
 
“I think it’s a terrible decision that hasn’t been thought through whatsoever,” protested Minty Jayne Edmondson-Bennett, who runs a bespoke nursery service. “It’s surprising that university students with the strongest immunity and no children relying on them at home aren’t the test case.” 
 
“It seems way too soon and dangerous,” agreed Leila Mae Wein, an American patent lawyer. “I  wish there was a better way to slowly restart the economy. Unfortunately those babies will be at risk, as well as their families and teachers.” 
 
“A little too soon,” agreed Linda Ama Sena Torkpo. “I’ll keep my son home for all of April. I’m not comfortable with letting him go to kindergarten yet.” 
 
Eric Leavitt, an American IT security manager, said that he and his Danish wife were “very angry” at the decision, especially as they have been zealously following social distancing recommendations. 
 
“We are worried that the system is not prepared and that the kids may become infected and get sick themselves or bring it home to us,” he said.
 
“We are worried that parents and those dropping kids off that will be the main facilitator of a possible spike in virus cases due to people’s inability to refrain from close contact. We worry for the teachers and those watching and teaching our kids. I would be very fearful if I was in their shoes.” 
 
He accused Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen and her government of sending children out to be “guinea pigs” and “lab rats”. 
 
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One teacher, who declined to be named when she answered The Local's survey, said she was scared that she herself would become sick, and also worried about sending her daughter to kindergarten. 
 
“She is very young and does not understand fully why she can’t hug her classmates or why she should not sneeze in my face. I am petrified of getting sick and of my daughter and family getting sick,” she said.
 
Another respondent to the survey said: “The virus doesn't show symptoms in young children and it is extremely dangerous to reopen schools and kindergartens since they can easily infect their parents and other members of the family.”
 
“I just hope the hospitals have enough beds and ventilators, and medical staff have enough protective equipment and the system is prepared to deal with the new cases after reopening,” said Shweta, a housewife. 
 
 
But others said that they understood why the government had felt the need to relax the tough restrictions, which have come at a heavy economic cost. 
 
Simone, an Italian telecoms engineer, said he hoped “for this to be the first step towards reopening society for real”.
 
“The long term solution cannot be a never-ending lockdown,” he said. “At some point we will also need to travel back home.”
 
Sagar Sapkota pointed out that the children who will return to school next week fall “under very low risk group for covid-19”, making the decision to start with them “a good step”, although he worried that if grandparents drop off and pick up children they would risk being exposed. 
 
Susan Churchwell, who runs the Susie Sugar Cakes shop in Slagelse, said that she trusted that the government knew what it was doing “on a population level”. 
 
“They have access to the experts and data that we don’t,” she said. “Parents who have no option need childcare in order to work, otherwise the economy will collapse. I also trust that, if cases of covid-19 start spiralling, the schools will be closed again. People forget the whole point of the closures in the first place wasn't to stop people getting sick, merely to delay it so the health service wasn't overwhelmed.” 
 
One mum, who didn't want to be named and whose toddler son had only been due to start kindergarten on April 14 even before the crisis, said that it would be emotionally difficult. 
 
“It’s such a hard decision but if you want to open up the community then I actually think that this is the right first step,” she said. “I am very scared that he will get sick but I am also aware that the small kids seem to be at the lowest risk. It’s just hard when it’s your own little child. I will carefully follow my gut on how things go and if I’m not happy then maybe I’ll take him out for a bit.” 
 
 
Many international parents said they were still waiting for what guidelines and procedures kindergartens and schools would put in place. 
 
“I think the announcement should have come with specific helpful advice on how to tackle it in an orderly and safe way,” said Nerrisa Rose Weis. “Perhaps, they could have limited the number of children, split by time and days.” 
 
She also said that additional staff would be needed to keep school and kindergartens clean and enforce social distancing. 
 
Belinda Bai said she had been reassured when Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said that toys would be washed twice a day at kindergartens, but questioned whether there would be sufficient resources. She also doubted whether toddlers and small children would be able to manage social distancing. 
 
“It seems to me difficult for the small ones to keep distance from each other. Society requires police to monitor the adults…” 
 
The number of parents picking up at any one time should be limited to ten, matching the ban on gatherings of more than ten people, she said.  “There are so many unknown details which create confusion and worry. 
 
Many of those expressing concern said they had otherwise been pleased with the way the government had handled the crisis so far. 
 
Shweta, the housewife, said the government had done “a commendable job until now”. But said she felt the announcement had already led to people dropping their guard.  “People have become way too casual. In Billund the supermarkets seem to be full of people during peak hours, since last weekend. I went for a walk near a lake on the outskirts of Grindsted and noticed too many people hanging out in groups.” 
 
“Up until this decision, it has been handled well,” said the teacher. “In theory, this sounds at least somewhat logical but in reality, it will be so difficult.” 
 
Another respondent to The Local's questionnaire said its handling had been “extraordinary”: “Being decisive and [showing a] fast response to lockdown and other protective measures. Buying precious time for the citizen.” 
 
“The Danish government has handled the situation in an excellent way, ” said a third respondent. “But with this plan of reopening soon they are likely going to damage the health of people living in Denmark.” 
 
 
 
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