Denmark to reduce Covid-19 rapid testing capacity

Authorities in Denmark have informed private contractors that they will now be asked to provide a maximum of 300,000 rapid tests for Covid-19 daily.

Denmark to reduce Covid-19 rapid testing capacity
People queue for rapid Covid-19 tests in Aalborg in April 2021. Photo: Henning Bagger/Ritzau Scanpix

That represents a reduction of the 400,000 daily tests which were available at the time of the downsizing.

The decision was made after demand dropped below 200,000 tests for seven consecutive days, the relevant authority, Styrelsen for Forsyningssikkerhed (Agency for Supply Sufficiency), said in a statement.

A maximum distance of 20 kilometres to the nearest test centre will remain in place. Both PCR and rapid tests will continue to be available in all municipalities.

Denmark ramped up its rapid testing capacity earlier in the year as it made a recent negative test a requirement to use many public services following the lifting of lockdown. But the demand for the tests has gradually tailed off as the number of vaccinated people increased.

“Weekly cotton buds in the nose and throat are history for very may Danes but we must continue to ensure good testing capacity for people who still need a test for their corona passports,” agency director Lisbeth Zilmer-Johns said in a statement.

The capacity for PCR testing is 170,000 tests daily and will not be changed.

An average of 81,000 PCR tests and 146,000 rapid tests were taken daily during the last week, according to the statement.

The downscaling means that some centres will now have shorter opening hours and fewer staff available.

Authorities generally pay the private suppliers for the number of tests they carry out, rather than based on capacity.

READ ALSO: What tourists need to know about Denmark’s coronapas system

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Why Danish government is considering more scope for epidemic restrictions

The Danish government must currently receive the backing of parliament before implementing major interventions in response to a public health threat such as the Covid-19 pandemic. But an evaluation by two ministries suggests they favour more flexibility on the area.

Why Danish government is considering more scope for epidemic restrictions

Under current laws, parliament must vote to approve the categorisation of a disease as a ‘critical threat’ to society (samfundskritisk).

Only when a disease or an epidemic has been categorised in this way by parliament can all  of the interventions available to the government under the epidemic law be brought into play.

In other words, the government must face parliamentary checks and controls before implementing restrictions.

Those interventions range from the most invasive, such as lockdowns and assembly limits, to less invasive, but still significant, measures such as face mask mandates and health pass requirements like those seen with the coronapas (Covid-19 health pass) during the Covid-19 pandemic.

READ ALSO: Denmark decommissions country’s Covid-19 health pass

The Ministry of Health now wants to change the existing structure within the Epidemic Law, newspaper Jyllands-Posten reported on Monday.

In an evaluation, the ministry proposes a change to the rules such that requirements for things like face masks and the coronapas can be introduced for diseases that are not only in the ‘critical threat’ category, but also for those rated an almen farlig sygdom, ‘dangerous to public health’.

This would put some of the restrictions in the lower category which is not subject to parliamentary control.

The evaluation was sent by the health and justice ministries to parliament in October but has escaped wider attention until now, Jyllands-Posten writes.

In its evaluation of the epidemic law, the Justice Ministry states that there is a “large jump” between the small pool of restrictions that can be introduced against ‘dangerous to public health diseases’ and the major societal interventions the government – with parliamentary backing – can use once a disease is classed as a ‘critical threat’.

“This jump does not quite seem to correspond with the actual demand for potential restrictions against diseases dangerous to public health, which can spread while not being critical to society,” the ministry writes.

The health ministry said in the evaluation the “consideration” should be made as to whether less invasive measures should continue to pass through parliament, as is the case under the current rules.

The national organisation for municipalities, KL, has told parliament that it backs the thinking of the ministries over the issue but that parliamentary control must be retained.

The Danish Council on Ethics (Det Etiske Råd) told Jyllands-Posten that it was “very sceptical” regarding the recommendation.

“The council therefore points out that a slippery slope could result if the restrictions, interventions and options that can be brought into use with diseases that present a critical threat to society, can also be used with dangerous diseases like normal influenza,” the council said.

The minority government’s allied political parties all stated scepticism towards the proposal, in comments reported by Jyllands-Posten.

In a written comment, the health ministry told the newspaper that Health Minister Magnus Heunicke would discuss committee stage responses with the other partied before deciding on “the need for initiatives”.