The Covid-19 risk level used by authorities is to be increased from level 4 to level 5, Frederiksen confirmed at a briefing.
The scale is used as an assessment of the level of strain on health authorities and prevalence of the virus throughout society. 5 is the highest level, 1 the lowest.
According to police website coronasmitte.dk, level 5 indicates “widespread infection in society”, as well as “a risk that treatment capacity at hospitals will be exceeded”.
Frederiksen also confirmed that the limit on assembly in public will be reduced from 10 to 5 people. The change takes effect from today.
In addition to the public restriction, authorities also strongly advise limiting private meetings to five people.
“We are making a strong appeal to cancel all arrangements that can be cancelled,” Frederisken said.
Social distancing rules in all public places including in essential stores such as supermarkets – non-essential stores are currently closed – are to be increased from one to two metres.
The rules are in effect until at least January 17th, in line with the current national lockdown.
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The decision to introduce new restrictions has been made based on the spread of a new, more contagious variant of Covid-19 known as cluster B117, Frederiksen said. The variant was initially reported in southeastern England in December.
At least 86 cases of the variant have been found by Denmark’s State Serum Institute (SSI), which genetically sequences a large number of samples from positive Covid-19 test swabs to identify the variant of the virus present.
Because SSI sequenced around 11 percent of all positive samples in the last six weeks of 2020, the actual number of people infected with the variant is likely to be around 9 times higher, the agency has said.
The 86 cases comprise 0.8 percent of around 10,300 samples sequenced in the last 6 weeks of 2020, according to SSI's report.
The new variant has been estimated by specialists in the UK to be up to 50-74 percent more contagious than other known form. Based on what scientists know so far, however, the variant does not appear to cause more serious illness than other kinds of coronavirus.
“The infection curve will be steeper and have a higher peak than the development we know (from other variants of the virus),” Frederiksen said at Tuesday’s briefing.
“Additionally, a larger part of society must be immune for us to achieve herd immunity. If we don’t intervene, more people will die and our health service will come under great pressure,” the prime minister continued.
No evidence so far suggests that vaccines are less effective against the B117 variant, according to the Danish Medicines Agency.
The government is considering travel restrictions on countries other than the United Kingdom, including from South Africa, where another infectious variant – which is not the same as the one from the UK – has been detected. This variant is yet to be detected in Denmark, SSI head Henrik Ullum confirmed at the briefing.
Speaking at the briefing, health minister Magnus Heunicke said that the more infectious B117 variant “will” become the dominant form of Covid-19 in Denmark.
“Developments in the United Kingdom show how dangerous this variant is. Capacity in the health service is under huge strain. The restrictions we are introducing in Denmark will help us to avoid that situation (as seen in the UK),” he said.
The minister noted that it will take some time before the effects of the restrictions become visible in infection numbers.
Hospitals in Denmark have a total of 942 Covid-19 inpatients as of the most recent daily update. 1,420 people in the country have now died with the virus.