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EXPLAINED: What does the ‘end of Covid-19 restrictions in Denmark’ actually mean?

Denmark's health ministry on Friday announced that the government would from September 10th stop classifying Covid-19 as a "critical threat to society", meaning a raft of restrictions will automatically expire.

EXPLAINED: What does the 'end of Covid-19 restrictions in Denmark' actually mean?
The change means that from September 10th, there will be no need for a coronapas even for large events. Photo: Helle Arensbak/Ritzau Scanpix

What expires on September 10th? 

On March 10th 2020, Covid-19 was classed as a samfundskritisk sygdom, or “an illness which is a critical threat to society”, which gave the government powers under Danish pandemic law to impose a range of tough restrictions on society, the next week closing schools, kindergartens, universities, libraries, and other public institutions, banning gatherings of more than 100 people. 

Denmark was one of the first countries in Europe to go into lockdown, imposing the restrictions on the same day that the World Health Organisation declared Covid-19 a global pandemic. 

On September 10th, Denmark will no longer classify Covid-19 as a samfundskritisk sygdom, meaning the government will automatically lose the legal powers right to impose heavy restrictions on the public, with most of the remaining restrictions outlined in the final inter-party agreement on reopening reached in June now ending early. 

What are the main remaining restrictions which are set to go? 

In the press release, the government said that the categorisation had made it possible under Danish law “to introduce a number of the special rules we have used to handle Covid-19”, naming specifically “assembly bans, coronapas requirements and face mask requirements”. 

Reclassifying the disease will then remove the legal basis under which most remaining restrictions are imposed. 

Denmark has, however, already lifted almost all remaining restrictions under the timetable for reopening agreed between the political parties in June.

Dropping the samfundskritisk sygdom classification will mean that from September 10th: 

  • visitors to nightclubs and discos will not need a coronavirus pass 
  • visitors to gyms and fitness centres will no longer need to show a valid coronavirus pass 
  • visitors to Superliga football matches will no longer need a valid coronavirus pass
  • visitors to outdoor events with more than 2,000 people will no longer need a coronavirus pass 

The requirement for a coronavirus pass or coronapas was due to expire for all these places on October 1st anyway, so Friday’s decision only brings the end of restrictions forwards by about 20 days. 

What does the change mean for travel restrictions? 

Nothing. The restrictions on inbound travel to Denmark are controlled by a separate political agreement, which is due to expire at the end of October. A disease need only be an alment farlig sygdom, a disease which is “dangerous to public health”, for the government to be empowered to impose inbound travel restrictions. 

A spokesperson with the Justice Ministry, which is responsible for inbound travel to Denmark, said that there were currently no plans to amend this agreement and so bring the country’s colour-coded system of travel restrictions to an early end. 

Why has the Danish government decided to do this? 

The government was coming under increasing pressure from both the right-wing opposition in Denmark and also several of its support parties on the left to end the classification of Covid-10 as a samfundskritisk sygdom. 

To be classed as a samfundskritisk sygdom a disease also needs to threaten the functions of society as a whole, by for instance, overwhelming the health system. The government has come to the conclusion that now most people in Denmark are vaccinated, this is no longer the case for Covid-19.

“The epidemic is under control, we have record vaccination levels. That is why, on September 10, we can lift the special rules we had to introduce in the fight against Covid-19,” Health Minister Magnus Heunicke said in the statement.

More than 70 percent of the Danish population are now fully vaccinated, according to the vaccination dashboard from the SSI infectious diseases agency, and the country leads Europe in terms of the number of doses given per capita. The government aims to hit 90 percent in October. 

Viggo Andreasen, associate professor at the Department of Science and the Environment at Roskilde University, told DR last week that he believed that rather than struggle to vaccinate the last hold-outs in society, it now made sense to allow the virus to spread and let them become immune through infection. 

He calculated that if all restrictions are lifted, those who have yet to be vaccinated, either because they refuse the vaccine or because they are under the age of 12, would be immune through infection within six months

Are any other countries doing the same? 

Denmark seems almost alone on this.

Germany recently extended its pandemic emergency law, although it is basing future strategy around hospitalisations rather than positive cases. France still has its state of emergency in place, as does Italy, although it is basing future business closures and local lockdowns on hospitalisation rates rather than cases. 

Does this mean the end of all measures to control Covid-19? 

No. Denmark’s health minister, Magnus Heunicke, stressed on Friday that the reclassification of Covid-19 did not mean that the pandemic was over and that the Danish authorities would “continue to keep the epidemic under strong surveillance”, with “testing, sequencing, waste-water testing, an effective vaccine roll-out and a readiness to bring in whatever is required”. 

What restrictions can still be imposed even after Covid-19 has been downgraded? 

Even though Covid-19 is no longer a samfundskritisk sygdom, according to TV2 it remains both an alment farlig sygdom, a disease which is “dangerous to public health”, and a smitsom sygdom, an infectious disease, which toegther give the government extended powers to test people and share personal health data between agencies. 

According to TV2, the government can still: 

  • impose inbound travel restrictions 
  • impose closures of schools and other institutions in the event of oubreatks 
  • carry out contact tracing
  • carry out tests on wastewater 
  • impose restrictions on visits to elderly care facilities and/or hospitals
  • demand citizens reveal personal information
  • exchange private health data between agencies 


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Denmark’s infectious disease agency does not recommend Covid tests for China arrivals

Travellers from China should not need a negative Covid-19 test when arriving in Denmark, the national infectious disease control agency State Serum Institute recommended on Saturday, in an assessment sent to the Ministry of Health.

Denmark's infectious disease agency does not recommend Covid tests for China arrivals

In the assessment by the State Serum Institute (SSI), it was noted that there aren’t expected to be a large number of arrivals coming directly from China and that any tests would have a marginal affect on Danish epidemic control.

However SSI wrote that it was still important to keep an eye on new variants of Covid-19 and suggested that a sample of voluntary-based PCR tests could be introduced for travellers from China.

The assessment was requested by Denmark’s health minister Sophie Løhde, following a recommendation on Wednesday by European Union experts to tighten travel rules.

Infection rates in China are high after it abolished its ‘zero Covid’ policy in late 2022, although no precise numbers are available.

Several European countries, including France, Spain, Italy and the UK, had already introduced testing requirements, while Sweden on Thursday announced a similar step, as did Germany, with an added announcement on Saturday to discourage non-essential travel from Germany to China.

The United States, Canada, India, South Korea and Taiwan have also put testing rules in place.

Health minister Sophie Løhde also asked SSI to assess testing waste water from aircraft landed from China. SSI responded that there is limited experience in this.

SSI currently analyses samples from shared toilet tanks at four airports twice a week – Copenhagen, Aarhus, Aalborg and Billund. The method would have to be changed in order to detect new Covid-19 variants, which would take up to four weeks to implement, according to the assessment.

Løhde has informed the parliamentary parties about the assessment and has asked the Epidemic Commission for an advisory assessment, she said in a press release. Once this is done, the recommendations will be discussed.