Greenland makes Covid-19 vaccination mandatory on public transport

Only people who have received at least the first dose of a coronavirus vaccination will be permitted to use public transport in Greenland from midnight on Monday.

Greenland makes Covid-19 vaccination mandatory on public transport
A Covid-19 test centre in Greenland's capital Nuuk earlier this year. Photo: Emil Helms/Ritzau Scanpix

Greenland’s prime minister Múte B. Egede confirmed the decision on Monday afternoon according to local media Sermitsiaq.AG.

The autonomous territory currently has 29 confirmed active cases of Covid-19, the highest number since the beginning of the pandemic.

“We must all take shared responsibility and show great caution since we do not yet know whether it is the Delta variant, which spreads a lot faster than the earlier Covid-19 variants,” Egede said at a briefing on Monday.

Passengers travelling to their home towns will be exempt from the vaccination requirement, however.

The new rule is initially in place until the end of July.

Although vaccination will now be required on public transport in Greenland, passengers will not be asked to show a vaccine passport or other form of documentation. That is because authorities say they trust the public to follow the rule.

In addition to public transport, unvaccinated people will not be allowed to use cafes, restaurants or sports facilities under the new restriction. Taxis are exempted from the rule.

Sermitsiaq.AG reports that 18,915 of Greenland’s population of around 56,000 are fully vaccinated, while 32,724 have received at least one dose of a vaccine.

A public assembly limit of 20 people will meanwhile remain in place in Greenland until the end of July.

READ ALSO: US no longer wants to buy Greenland, Secretary of State confirms

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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”.