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Will Denmark’s parties agree tomorrow to phase out face masks?

Will Denmark's parties agree tomorrow to phase out face masks?
Face masks in supermarkets may no longer be required as early as next month. Photo: Liselotte Sabroe/Ritzau Scanpix
Denmark's cross-party Epidemic Committee is set to meet tomorrow to decide on which coronavirus restrictions can be relaxed. Will they remove the requirement to wear face masks?

What do senior health officials say about face masks? 

Søren Brostrøm, Director General of the Danish Health Authority, told TV2 on Monday that with growing vaccination coverage, low infection rates and low hospitalisation rates, it might be time to look again at the remaining restrictions, such as face masks, the need to show a valid coronavirus pass, and frequent testing. 

Magnus Heunicke, Denmark’s health minister, also on Monday told state broadcaster DR that his goal was to begin to phase out the masks “before the summer holidays”, but he said it was unlikely that they would disappear completely. 

“I’m really looking forward to throwing them in the bin, but it’s probably still a while before we do it everywhere,” he said. “There will probably be some areas where you still have to use them, if you have to stand close together.” 

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What positions are the political parties taking? 

Danish People’s Party: The populist party has proposed ending the requirement to wear face masks as early as next month. 

“During the coming month, I expect that we will be able to get rid of face masks in retail and at other places where there is a good distance and where it is a great inconvenience for those who wear them,” the party’s chairman Kristian Thulesen Dahl told TV2. 

“For me, it is especially important to look at the professions where employees have to run around in face masks for 7-8 hours a day.” 

The party also wants to change the rules over coronavirus passes, so that bars and restaurants no longer need to check each and every customers, but can instead make spot checks. 

The Red-Green Alliance. The left-wing group is proposing that face masks be phased out in August. “When pretty much everyone who can be offered a vaccine has been offered one, then we can begin to look at restrictions like face masks,” said the party’s coronavirus chief Peder Hvelplund, although he said if infection rates are particularly low it might also be possible to start phasing them out before then. 

The Socialist Left Party wants to to look at ending the use of face masks by front-line nursing staff, including in elderly care homes. 

“We must have it removed in places where we know each other well. This applies, for example, to the country’s nursing homes. The elderly have already suffered a lot during the epidemic and need great daily contact,” the party’s health spokesperson, Kirsten Normann Andersen, told TV2. 

The Conservative Party wants to hand over responsibility for deciding on face masks to health authorities, but is generally taking a more cautious approach. 

“Yes, face masks are an encroachment on our personal freedom, but there is still a broader societal concern to look at,” said the party’s health spokesperson Per Larsen. “For example, we know that three percent of 30- to 39-year-olds end up in hospital when they get infected, and there’s still some time to go before this group gets vaccinated. So we say wait.”

The Social Liberal Party is open to removing the face mask requirement in retail and some frontline nursing staff, but wants to wait until there is a clear message from health authorities. 

“I expect a gradual phasing out over the summer. We do not have to wait for everyone to be vaccinated,” ays Stinus Lindgren, the party’s health spokesperson told TV2. “But I would like to hear from the authorities where they see the least risk.” 

He suggested that August might be the right time to withdraw the face mask requirement. 

The Liberal Party has not been willing to share its position on face masks ahead of the meeting, but is keep to bring in later opening hours for cafes and restaurants and wants the parties to agree a time table for phasing out the use of the coronavirus pass. 

What are independent health experts saying? 

Professor Hans Jørn Kolmos, at the University of Southern Denmark, told the Ritzau news agency on Tuesday that he believed that face masks could be phased out as early as July 1st, at least in shops and supermarkets, where he argues social distancing is relatively easy. 

“The first place we can get rid of face masks is in shops and supermarkets, where we go shopping,” he said. “I think we can discard them this side of the summer holidays – around 1 July.”

He said that he believed that the need to have face masks when standing in restaurants could probably also probably go. 

“You cannot eat with a face mask on, so I do not think you are actually preventing that much,” he said.

Allan Randrup Thomsen, professor of experimental virology at the University of Copenhagen, largely agrees. 

“One of the places where you can immediately discard face masks is in supermarkets, where after all you do not get so close to each other in most cases,” he told state broadcaster DR. “In the retail trade, there are often situations where face masks seems superfluous. If one person is standing in a shop with a sales assistant on the other side, then that is not a situation they bring a big advantage”.


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