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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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COVID-19 ALERT

Covid-19: European summer holidays threatened by rise of subvariants

A resurgence of Covid-19 cases in Europe, this time driven by new, fast-spreading Omicron subvariants, is once again threatening to disrupt people's summer plans.

Covid-19: European summer holidays threatened by rise of subvariants

Several Western European nations have recently recorded their highest daily case numbers in months, due in part to Omicron sub-variants BA.4 and BA.5.

The increase in cases has spurred calls for increased vigilance across a continent that has relaxed most if not all coronavirus restrictions.

The first resurgence came in May in Portugal, where BA.5 propelled a wave that hit almost 30,000 cases a day at the beginning of June. That wave has since started to subside, however.

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS: German Health Ministry lays out autumn Covid plan

Italy recorded more than 62,700 cases on Tuesday, nearly doubling the number from the previous week, the health ministry said. 

Germany meanwhile reported more than 122,000 cases on Tuesday. 

France recorded over 95,000 cases on Tuesday, its highest daily number since late April, representing a 45-percent increase in just a week.

Austria this Wednesday recorded more than 10,000 for the first time since April.

READ ALSO: Italy’s transport mask rule extended to September as Covid rate rises

Cases have also surged in Britain, where there has been a seven-fold increase in Omicron reinfection, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The ONS blamed the rise on the BA.4 and BA.5 variants, but also said Covid fell to the sixth most common cause of death in May, accounting for 3.3 percent of all deaths in England and Wales.

BA.5 ‘taking over’

Mircea Sofonea, an epidemiologist at the University of Montpellier, said Covid’s European summer wave could be explained by two factors.

READ ALSO: 11,000 new cases: Will Austria reintroduce restrictions as infection numbers rise?

One is declining immunity, because “the protection conferred by an infection or a vaccine dose decreases in time,” he told AFP.

The other came down to the new subvariants BA.4 and particularly BA.5, which are spreading more quickly because they appear to be both more contagious and better able to escape immunity.

Olivier Schwartz, head of the virus and immunity unit at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, said BA.5 was “taking over” because it is 10 percent more contagious than BA.2.

“We are faced with a continuous evolution of the virus, which encounters people who already have antibodies — because they have been previously infected or vaccinated — and then must find a selective advantage to be able to sneak in,” he said.

READ ALSO: Tourists: What to do if you test positive for Covid in France

But are the new subvariants more severe?

“Based on limited data, there is no evidence of BA.4 and BA.5 being associated with increased infection severity compared to the circulating variants BA.1 and BA.2,” the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) said last week.

But rising cases can result in increasing hospitalisations and deaths, the ECDC warned.

Could masks be making a comeback over summer? (Photo by OSCAR DEL POZO / AFP)

Alain Fischer, who coordinates France’s pandemic vaccine strategy, warned that the country’s hospitalisations had begun to rise, which would likely lead to more intensive care admissions and eventually more deaths.

However, in Germany, virologist Klaus Stohr told the ZDF channel that “nothing dramatic will happen in the intensive care units in hospitals”.

Return of the mask? 

The ECDC called on European countries to “remain vigilant” by maintaining testing and surveillance systems.

“It is expected that additional booster doses will be needed for those groups most at risk of severe disease, in anticipation of future waves,” it added.

Faced with rising cases, last week Italy’s government chose to extend a requirement to wear medical grade FFP2 masks on public transport until September 30.

“I want to continue to recommend protecting yourself by getting a second booster shot,” said Italy’s Health Minister Roberto Speranza, who recently tested positive for Covid.

READ ALSO: Spain to offer fourth Covid-19 vaccine dose to ‘entire population’

Fischer said France had “clearly insufficient vaccination rates” and that a second booster shot was needed.

Germany’s government is waiting on expert advice on June 30 to decide whether to reimpose mandatory mask-wearing rules indoors.

The chairman of the World Medical Association, German doctor Frank Ulrich Montgomery, has recommended a “toolbox” against the Covid wave that includes mask-wearing, vaccination and limiting the number of contacts.

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