Why is ‘critical threat’ status of Covid-19 important in Denmark?

Covid-19 is set to again be classified as a “critical threat” to Danish society, a status it previously had until September this year.

A file photo of Covid-19 information signs at a Danish hospital entrance. The coronavirus is rated a
A file photo of Covid-19 information signs at a Danish hospital entrance. The coronavirus is rated a "critical threat" to society when it is considered to threaten the health system. Photo: Henning Bagger/Ritzau Scanpix

A majority of political parties supports the government’s plan to reintroduce coronapas (Covid-19 health pass) requirements and to again designate the virus a “critical threat” to society, according to reports on Monday.

The government’s advisory Epidemic Commission earlier on Monday recommended the change of status of Covid-19 from “dangerous to public health” to a “critical threat” to society. That is a reversal of the move in September, when earlier restrictions were lifted. 

On September 10th, Covid-19 was no longer classed as a “critical threat to society”, or samfundskritisk sygdom, a disease which threaten the functions of society as a whole, by for instance, overwhelming the health system. Covid-19 was first rated a samfundskritisk sygdom on March 10th 2020.

Since then, Covid-19 has been rated an almen farlig sygdom, “dangerous to public health”.

The distinction is important because it impacts the ability of the government to introduce restrictions aimed at curbing spread of the virus.

When a disease is considered a “critical threat”, the government can impose restrictions such as bans on people gathering and school closures, mandate use of face masks, and demand Covid-19 passes, provided a majority in parliament’s epidemic committee does not oppose this.

This does not apply for diseases only rated “dangerous to public health”. In this case, the (minority) government needs a parliamentary majority to vote in favour of any restrictions.

In either case, however, the government and health authorities have 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 even when it is not a critical threat to society.

Parliament’s epidemic committee (udvalg in Danish, not to be confused with the Commission, kommission) was scheduled to on Tuesday to discuss the issue.

Parliament must support any decision for the status of Covid-19 to be changed to critical.

As such, the committee, which has representation from all of the parliamentary parties, has a decisive role in the process.

READ ALSO: Five key things Danish PM said about country’s coronavirus situation

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Denmark’s infectious disease agency does not recommend Covid tests for China arrivals

Travellers from China should not need a negative Covid-19 test when arriving in Denmark, the national infectious disease control agency State Serum Institute recommended on Saturday, in an assessment sent to the Ministry of Health.

Denmark's infectious disease agency does not recommend Covid tests for China arrivals

In the assessment by the State Serum Institute (SSI), it was noted that there aren’t expected to be a large number of arrivals coming directly from China and that any tests would have a marginal affect on Danish epidemic control.

However SSI wrote that it was still important to keep an eye on new variants of Covid-19 and suggested that a sample of voluntary-based PCR tests could be introduced for travellers from China.

The assessment was requested by Denmark’s health minister Sophie Løhde, following a recommendation on Wednesday by European Union experts to tighten travel rules.

Infection rates in China are high after it abolished its ‘zero Covid’ policy in late 2022, although no precise numbers are available.

Several European countries, including France, Spain, Italy and the UK, had already introduced testing requirements, while Sweden on Thursday announced a similar step, as did Germany, with an added announcement on Saturday to discourage non-essential travel from Germany to China.

The United States, Canada, India, South Korea and Taiwan have also put testing rules in place.

Health minister Sophie Løhde also asked SSI to assess testing waste water from aircraft landed from China. SSI responded that there is limited experience in this.

SSI currently analyses samples from shared toilet tanks at four airports twice a week – Copenhagen, Aarhus, Aalborg and Billund. The method would have to be changed in order to detect new Covid-19 variants, which would take up to four weeks to implement, according to the assessment.

Løhde has informed the parliamentary parties about the assessment and has asked the Epidemic Commission for an advisory assessment, she said in a press release. Once this is done, the recommendations will be discussed.