Denmark eases school Covid-19 rules: close contacts can stay in class

School and daycare children will no longer be immediately sent home if they have come into close contact with a confirmed case of Covid-19.

Denmark eases school Covid-19 rules: close contacts can stay in class
File photo: Emil Helms/Ritzau Scanpix

Children will instead be tested for the coronavirus at their schools or nurseries if they are found to have been in close contact with a person who has tested positive for Covid-19. 

The new guidelines were confirmed by the Danish Health Authority on Monday.

“From now on it will only be the infected (children) who will have to go into self-isolation. Children who are close contacts are recommended testing so they can stay at their school or daycare,” the authority wrote. 

That replaces the existing practice of sending close contacts home from schools. 

Unvaccinated children who have not previously recovered from the virus are now asked to take a coronavirus test of any kind as soon as possible and two additional PCR tests, on the fourth and seventh days after the suspected contact.

Children may continue to attend school while awaiting test results, but will be sent home if they develop symptoms or a test result returns positive.

Tests are not recommended for children under the age of three unless they develop symptoms of Covid-19.

“The new guidelines will primarily mean that we will avoid so many children being sent home since they will from now on be able to take a rapid test at school in immediate response to a classmate being infected,” education minister Pernille Rosenkrantz-Theil said.

“There is no doubt that sending children home when a single pupil is infected has consequences for schooling and it is very disruptive for families,” she added.

The new guidelines will come into effect “as soon as possible”, the minister said.

READ ALSO: Covid-19 vaccination to be offered at Danish supermarkets

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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”.