Denmark’s new epidemic law comes into effect

A new epidemic law, recently passed by a broad majority in parliament, takes effect on Monday March 1st.

Denmark’s new epidemic law comes into effect
Photo: Ólafur Steinar Rye Gestsson/Ritzau Scanpix

The new law replaces an emergency epidemic law passed in March 2020, which gave the government extended powers to intervene in society in order to fight the Covid-19 pandemic.

Parliament is granted more control under the new law, with the sitting health minister now required to ask the chamber for support for any changes in the law made to control an epidemic.

As such, restrictions of an “interventionist nature” will now require a parliamentary vote and cannot unilaterally be placed by the health minister.

A parliamentary committee will not, however, be able to prevent the government from lifting, easing or making “insignificant changes” to existing rules under the new law.

The law was passed last week after a previous proposal was scrapped due to resistance to a clause which would have enabled authorities to force vaccinations in a narrowly-specified set of circumstances.

The new law also provides for the government and health authorities to appoint an 11-member epidemic commission to offer consultation during future pandemics or epidemics.

Similarly to the outgoing law, the new one allows for examinations, tests, isolation and treatment to be required by force in certain situations in which this is deemed necessary to protect public health.

Mandatory use of face masks and public assembly restrictions are also provided for by the new law.

Coronavirus restrictions currently in place under the previous law are transferred and remain in place under the new law, the Ministry of Health confirmed in a statement on Monday.

It has been criticised for a number of elements, notably the extent to which provisions for infection tracing enable the government to conduct surveillance over the general public, news wire Ritzau reported last week after parliament voted the law through.

Contact tracing provided for by the law can give rise to monitoring of users of gyms and customers at restaurants, while members of the public can be required to hand over details of close contacts against their will, Ritzau wrote.

An amendment to the bill which would have put in place a thorough parliamentary review later in the year was eventually withdrawn after failing to gain the necessary votes. It will instead be given a softer evaluation.

READ ALSO: New Danish epidemic law could be reviewed by parliament in autumn

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IN NUMBERS: Has the Omicron Covid-19 wave peaked in Denmark?

The number of new Covid-19 infections fell on Saturday for the second day in a row, following a three-day plateau at the start of last week. Has the omicron wave peaked?

IN NUMBERS: Has the Omicron Covid-19 wave peaked in Denmark?
Graffiti in the Copenhagen hippy enclave of Christiania complaining of Omicron's impact on Christmas. Photo: Philip Davali/Scanpix

How many cases, hospitalisations and deaths are there in Denmark? 

Denmark registered 12,588 new cases in the 24 hours leading up to 2pm on Saturday, down from the 18,261 registered on in the day leading up to Friday at 2pm, which was itself a decline from the record 28,283 cases recorded on Wednesday. 

The cases were identified by a total of 174,517 PCR tests, bringing the positive percentage to 7.21 percent, down from the sky high rates of close to 12 percent seen in the first few days of January. 

The number of cases over the past seven days is lower than the week before in almost every municipality in Denmark, with only Vallensbæk, Aarhus, Holseterbro, Skanderborg, Hjørring, Vordingborg,  Ringkøbing, Kolding, Assens, Horsens, Thisted, and Langeland reporting rises. 

Hospitalisations have also started to fall, with some 730 patients being treated for Covid-10 on Saturday, down from 755 on Friday. On Tuesday, 794 were being treated for Covid-19 in Danish hospitals, the highest number since the peak of the 2020-21 winter wave.

The only marker which has not yet started to fall is the number of deaths, which tends to trail infections and hospitalisations. 

In the 24 hours leading up to 2pm on Saturday, Denmark registered 28 deaths with Covid-19, the highest daily number recorded since 20 January 2021, when 29 people died with Covid-19 (although Denmark’s deadliest day was the 19 January 2021, when 39 people died). 

How does Denmark compare to other countries in Europe? 

Over the last seven days, Denmark has had the highest Covid-19 case rate of any country in Europe bar Ireland. The number of new infections in the country has climbed steadily since the start of December, apart from a brief fall over Christmas. 

So does this mean the omicron wave has peaked? 

Maybe, although experts are not sure. 

“Of course, you can hope for that, but I’m not sure that is the case,” said Christian Wejse, head of the Department for Infectious Diseases at Aarhus University Hospital. “I think it is too early to conclude that the epidemic has peaked.”

He said that patients with the Omicron variant were being discharged more rapidly on average than had been the case with those who had the more dangerous Delta variant. 

“Many admissions are relatively short-lived, thankfully. This is because many do not become that il, and are largely hospitalized because they are suffering with something else. And if they are stable and do not need oxygen, then they are quickly discharged again.” 

Denmark’s Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said during a visit to an event held by the Social Liberal party that the latest numbers made her even more optimistic about the coming month. 

“We have lower infection numbers and the number of hospitalisations is also plateauing,” she said. “I think we’re going to get through this winter pretty well, even if it will be a difficult time for a lot of people, and we are beginning to see the spring ahead of us, so I’m actually very optimistic.” 

She said that she had been encouraged by the fact that Omicron was a “visibly less dangerous variant if it is not allowed to explode.”