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

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
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.

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.

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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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