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COVID-19 RULES

Denmark scraps face masks on trains and buses two weeks early

Denmark is lifting the requirement to wear face masks when standing on buses, trains and the underground two weeks early, the Ministry of Transport announced on Friday. 

Denmark scraps face masks on trains and buses two weeks early
Travellers wear face masks on the Copenhagen Metro. Photo: Emil Helms/Ritzau Scanpix
The requirement was scheduled to be lifted on September 1st, but the move has been bring brought forward as a consequence of the Danish Health Authority’s decision to lift the recommendation to keep a one-metre distance in public spaces,” the ministry said in a statement

“We have had the requirement for a face mask when entering and leaving public transport because it can be difficult to keep your distance. But when the distance requirement is no longer there, we have chosen to abolish it now,” Benny Engelbrecht, Denmark’s transport minister said. 

The requirement still applies at airports and on planes, as that is subject to an international agreement. 

Denmark introduced the face mask requirement in August 2020, relatively late in comparison to many other European countries, following months of national debate over whether the measure was effective. 

“I am full of admiration for all the transport companies, employees and citizens who, throughout the corona crisis, have kept their distance and used face masks so that public transport has worked,” Engelbrecht said.

“I have no doubt that it has helped keep the number of infections down and ultimately save lives. Now we are in a completely different place, where a large part of the population has been vaccinated, and we are returning to a more normal everyday life.”

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COVID-19 RULES

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”.

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