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COVID-19 RULES

How likely is the return of Covid-19 restrictions in Denmark?

Covid-19 infections are currently increasing in Denmark, but the government's pathway to implementing wide-ranging restrictions is less simple than during earlier stages of the pandemic.

A closed golf course in Denmark during the March 2020 lockdown. A return to far-reaching coronavirus restrictions now requires majority backing in parliament.
A closed golf course in Denmark during the March 2020 lockdown. A return to far-reaching coronavirus restrictions now requires majority backing in parliament. Photo: Liselotte Sabroe/Ritzau Scanpix

Health Minister Magnus Heunicke is on Friday scheduled to discuss the current Covid-19 situation in Denmark with parliamentary colleagues.

Infection numbers have risen sharply this week and the minister said on Wednesday that testing would be upscaled. He also said the more of the population must be vaccinated to ward off the need for restrictions.

The total number of people hospitalised with Covid-19 in Denmark is currently 212, the highest since April though significantly lower than the peak in January, when over 900 were admitted to hospitals with the virus.

Spokespersons from at least three other parties – the Red Green Alliance, Danish People’s Party and Conservative Party – this week expressed their opposition to the return of coronavirus restrictions.

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Because Covid-19 was in September downgraded from the status of “critical threat to society”, or samfundskritisk sygdom to alment farlig sygdom (“dangerous to public health”), the powers of the government to respond to it have changed.

A disease is considered a “critical threat” when it threatens the functions of society as a whole, by for instance, overwhelming the health system. In such instances, the government can impose bans on people gathering, close schools, demand Covid-19 passes, and mandate use of face masks, provided this is not opposed by a majority in parliament’s representative epidemic committee (epidemiudvalg).

These powers no longer apply for Covid-19, which is now rated “dangerous to public health”, and a smitsom sygdom, an infectious disease. Instead, the (minority) government would need a parliamentary majority to vote to reimplement the critical status, allowing the far-reaching restrictions to return.

Not enough parties favour this for it to be an option for the government at the time of writing.

A serious Covid-19 outbreak at a school can result in the school being closed by the Danish Patient Safety Authority (Styrelsen for Patientsikkerhed). A number of such closures could elicit re-evaluation of the current status of the pandemic by the health ministry and parliament’s epidemic committee, potentially resulting in its being upgraded back to a critical threat.

Although domestic restrictions are therefore still some way off, travel restrictions can be reintroduced, meaning entry into Denmark, currently largely unrestricted, could be limited again. Theoretically, this could mean entry quarantine and testing requirements are again widened, although there has been no discussion of this at the time of writing.

READ ALSO: Denmark to end Covid-19 colour system in ‘normalisation’ of travel rules

The government and health authorities also still have additional powers to test people and collect and share health data, and require people to self-isolate. That is because the coronavirus is still categorised as a danger to public health.

This is relevant in situations such as childcare and schools, where there are large proportion of unvaccinated people (because they are children), and in local authorities with high incidences of Covid-19.

If infections increase to over 500 per 100,000 residents in a municipality, authorities ask that children be dropped off at schools and daycare outdoors, and be tested twice weekly. This is currently the case in four municipalities west of Copenhagen – Ishøj, Albertslund, Glostrup and Brøndby.

After closing private rapid test centres earlier this month and in September, Heunicke said on broadcaster DR’s Aftenshowet programme that capacity would now be increased again, to 150,000 tests daily instead of 100,000.

Source: Sundhedsministeriet

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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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