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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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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”.