Covid-19: Denmark plans twice-weekly testing as path out of lockdown

Large numbers of people in Denmark could be tested for Covid-19 twice weekly as part of a new government plan to control the virus.

Covid-19: Denmark plans twice-weekly testing as path out of lockdown
Health minister Magnus Heunicke speaks to press on Wednesday. Photo: Philip Davali/Ritzau Scanpix

The government announced on Wednesday a new agreement with the national organisation for local authorities, Local Government Denmark (KL) along with the umbrella agency for regional health authorities, Danske Regioner.

That agreement will pave the way for twice-weekly testing in sections of society to enable Denmark to gradually ease restrictions, health minister Magnus Heunicke told media.

“This is a societal contract in which we demand the sector and parts of society that can reopen to test twice a week,” Heunicke said.

“Either a rapid test or a PCR test, so we can place it within the models we calculate on,” he added.

Prior to the announcement, a number of political parties have pushed for restrictions to be eased once the current lockdown expires on February 28th.

Heunicke said the government was awaiting projections from experts before putting forward a schedule for reopening.

Any schedule for easing restrictions will comprise an increased number of Covid-19 test centres, justice minister Nick Hækkerup said at the briefing.

“If we said that all elementary school classes and youth education institutes open, you would have to be at 160,000 tests per day. That is a huge, huge task. I don’t think the calculations show that we can open on March 1st,” Hækkerup said.

“We want to build a larger network of permanent test locations in the country. We have 55 rapid testing locations. We envisage that we will need several hundred spread across the country,” he added.

Children in the younger grades returned to school earlier this month. The impact of that on infection rates is so far encouraging, according to Heunicke.

“Our hope is that we can have a further reopening of society.

“(Junior school classes returning) has gone reasonably safely and securely. There will hopefully be some scope but we will know more as soon as we have projections,” he said with regard to allowing older students to return.

Education minister Pernille Rosenkrantz-Theil said that older school students could contribute to reopening by participating in broad testing.

“If we are to use the super-resource which is continual testing, it will require young people allowing themselves to be tested and for schools to contribute to this large logistical task,” Rosenkrantz-Theil said.

“Continual tests can be the key that opens the school gates. That is why it’s crucial that we produce a proper strategy,” she said.

READ ALSO: Denmark reduces number of school exams due to Covid-19

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Explained: What are Denmark’s Covid-19 guidelines for the new school year?

The Danish Health Authority has issued new coronavirus guidelines for the start of the new school year on Monday. We explain what has changed and what restrictions remain?

Explained: What are Denmark's Covid-19 guidelines for the new school year?
Pupils at Amager Fælled Skole on their return to the classroom in March this year. Photo: Emil Helms/Ritzau Scanpix

Isn’t there a risk that infections will spike after children return? 

Absolutely. After the new guidelines were released, Søren Brostsrøm, the authority’s director, said that he expected a resurgence in infections after pupils return to school. 

“There’s no doubt that infection will increase in Danish society, partly because we are opening up institutions and workplaces and partly because we are changing our contact patterns when we come home from holiday,” he told the broadcaster TV2

But he said that the high number of vaccinated people meant that higher levels of infection could be tolerated. 

“We are doing this first and foremost because we have a massively high vaccine coverage in Denmark, especially among the elderly and vulnerable, who are the ones at risk of becoming seriously ill.” 

“We are raising the threshold without letting go of the reins, so hopefully we will have a relatively normal school year.” 

What’s the big change? 

The biggest change is that classes will no longer be sent home, or their schools closed, if one of their classmates tests positive for coronavirus.

Pupils will now only be sent home if there are “major outbreaks or other special situations”.

This will be the case, for example, if more than 30 to 40 people at the school are infected, if there is a super-spreading event at the school, or if there are new and particularly worrying coronavirus variants among those infected.

Schools must contact the Danish Agency for Patient Safety for advice before sending a class or school home. 

“We would very much like to help get schooling back to normal as it was before the coronavirus epidemic,” said Andreas Rudkjøbing, a doctor at the authority in a press release announcing the new guidelines. “Therefore, our priority is to ensure that the schools remain open as far as possible.” 

In addition, pupils will no longer be considered to have been “in close contact” with an infected person simply because they are in the same class. They will need to have been less than one metre away for more than 15 minutes. 

What restrictions are still in place? 

On June 11th, Denmark removed most of the restrictions which had been placed on schools since they returned after the first lockdown in April 2020. 

But schools and kindergartens are still encouraged to follow the authority’s general infection prevention recommendations. These are: 
  • Get vaccinated
  • Stay home and get tested if you get symptom
  • Keep distance
  • Ventilate and create draft
  • Wash your hands often or use rubbing alcohol
  • Clean, especially surfaces that many people touch
Students and school staff are also advised to be tested for coronavirus twice a week if they are over the age of 12 and have yet to be fully vaccinated. 
What counts as “contact” with an infected person?
Pupils will count as having been in “close contact” and will need to stay home if they have been less than one metre away from someone who tests positive for more than 15 minutes. 
This is extended to two metres if the pupils have been engaged in activities with strong exhalation such as singing, loud speech or shouting, activities that involve physical exertion, or have been together in enclosed places with poor ventilation. 
In kindergartens, children who share a room will all be considered close contacts. 
Pupils will also need to stay home if someone they live with tests positive. 
Close contacts of infected people should go into self-isolation and get tested on day four and day six after they have been contact. They can leave self-isolation ten days after the onset of symptoms, after two fever-free days, or after a positive test. 
It will be up to the leadership of schools and kindergartens to decide if anyone counts as an “other contact”, who has not been in close contact, but should still get tested, even if vaccinated. “Other contacts” do not need to self-isolate.  
What happens if a pupil or member of staff develops coronavirus symptoms while at school? 
According to the new guidelines, they should be kept separate from other pupils or staff members until they can be picked up and taken home, with everything they touch cleaned afterwards. 
Under Danish law pupils under the age of 15 cannot be tested for coronavirus without parental consent, so if a test is to be caried out by the school, pupils’ parents must be asked first. 
If parents do not want A child to be tested, they child should go into self-isolation until 48 hours after their symptoms cease
What should schools do if one or more pupils or members of staff test positive? 
Schools and kindergartens are advised to contact their local municipal health service for advice, and to then detgermine whether the infected person has been present at the institution during their “infection period”. 
The Danish Agency for Patient Safety may then contact the institution with information on infection tracking and measures to prevent further outbreaks. 
If the infected person has been present, everything they have touched should be cleaned, areas they have been in should be ventilated. 
Pupils and staff should be reminded of basic hygiene recommendations.