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Danish local elections: Covid-19 safety measures to be used on polling day

Authorities in Denmark on Monday confirmed a number of safety measures related to the Covid-19 pandemic will be in place when the country goes to the polls in local elections on Tuesday.

Hand sanitizer, social distancing and outside polling booths will all be features of tomorrow’s municipal and regional elections in Denmark.
Hand sanitizer, social distancing and outside polling booths will all be features of tomorrow’s municipal and regional elections in Denmark. File photo: Claus Fisker/Ritzau Scanpix

Denmark is currently in the midst of a steep wave of new cases of Covid-19, with over 2,000 new cases registered during the last 11 consecutive says and close to 350 people currently admitted to hospital with the virus.

Hand sanitizer, social distancing and outside polling booths will all be features of tomorrow’s municipal and regional elections in an effort to keep turnout high despite the concerning Covid-19 curve, authorities said at a briefing on Monday.

“Municipalities are extremely well prepared and almost all voters are vaccinated. It’s therefore safe and secure to vote tomorrow,” interior minister Kaare Dybvad said at Monday’s briefing, as reported by broadcaster DR.

“In Norway they had a (general) election earlier this year with significantly more restrictions and you could see a small drop in turnout,” the minister noted.

“There’s no reason to be worried about going out and voting but there may be a small drop. We have no estimate of what to expect,” he added.

Over 400,000 foreign residents in Denmark are eligible to vote in the elections.

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The exact provisions in place at individual polling stations are determined by the local municipalities.

In general, local authorities are advised to ensure good distancing between voters, liberal use of hand sanitizer and use of outdoors space.

Voters will be allowed to bring their own pens to fill out ballot papers, in a first for Danish elections.

People who are infected with coronavirus are allowed to vote and are not required to present a valid coronapas, in line with the Danish constitution which ensures everyone who is eligible be allowed to vote.

Those currently infected with Covid-19 are instructed not to enter polling stations but to call a telephone number which will be provided outside of the voting location, broadcaster TV2 reports. Staff wearing PPE will then assist, allowing votes to be cast. This can be done from inside of a car or at an outside voting box.

“I cannot stand here and guarantee that infections won’t occur in connection with the elections. That’s also the case for many other societal activities. But (the elections) can be undertaken safely and properly in relation to the epidemic,” Danish Health Authority director Søren Brostrøm said.

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POLITICS

KEY POINTS: What is Denmark proposing to change in its latest reform package?

Denmark’s government on Monday proposed a new reform package which could see major changes introduced at universities and public sector workplaces.

KEY POINTS: What is Denmark proposing to change in its latest reform package?

A new proposal for reforms in Denmark, presented by the government on Monday, could see a significant number of Master’s degree programmes shortened from two years to one and red tape in public services trimmed back.

The proposal is titles Danmark kan mere III (“Denmark can do more part III). It follows earlier reform packages tabled in September 2021 and April 2022, which focused on social welfare and energy, among other areas, respectively.

Higher education 

The headline element of Monday’s proposal is arguably the plan to shorten a large number of Master’s degrees at Danish universities from two years to one.

The proposal was first reported in Danish media last week and has now been formalised with Monday’s announcement.

READ ALSO: Denmark plans to shorten university courses to save money 

Currently, it takes two years to complete any Master’s degree in Denmark (after completing the three-year Bachelor’s degree).

While it is common in some countries – including the United States and United Kingdom – to enter the labour market after completing a Bachelor’s degree, this is not the case in Denmark, where most university students go on to do a Master’s programme.

The government is proposing to shorten around half of all Master’s degrees by a year. This means that the Master’s programme will take one year, rather than two, and that the total time these students spend at university will be around four years, not five.

Under the proposal, around 35 percent of existing MA or MSc degrees will become one-year programmes. 15 percent will become so-called erhvervskandidater “professional Master’s degrees”. These can be structured over anything from one to four years but will require students to work at least 25 hours per week while studying. The total hours of studying add up to a one-year course.

The remaining 50 percent of Master’s degrees will continue as two-year courses.

The government has not specified which programmes will be shortened but has confirmed that humanities and social science subjects will be the primary targets. Scientific degrees are less likely to be cut back.

“The educations in which you need an actual authorisation, for example in the health sector, or where you need to take a specialisation early, these need to remain at two years,” the Minister for Higher Education and Research, Jesper Petersen, said at Monday’s briefing.

The move will release two billion kroner of funding that can be reinvested in education, the government said.

Universities have shown opposition to the proposal. The rector of Aarhus University, Brian Bech Nielsen, told broadcaster DR that the changes would degrade the quality of university educations.

“This is very, very drastic because it is a very, very large proportion of university degrees that would be shortened. How do we know that this helps? [University] requires immersion in study, and that takes time. You can’t learn everything in half the time,” he said.

“It would mean that some Master’s graduates would have a lower level of qualification. That would damage Danish businesses our society and the students,” he said.

Public sector

The government wants to save money by cutting back on bureaucracy, particularly at the municipal level.

Around 2.5 billion kroner of spending will be diverted to other areas under the reform plan by cutting back on administrative labour and spending additional resources on “core welfare” (kernevelfærd), the government said.

“The human side of welfare has been given less time and documentation and cold numbers have been given more time,” Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said at the briefing.

One example of reduced administration is a plan to scrap half of all daily registration tasks in the elderly care sector, DR reports.

According to the government, the plan does not mean fewer public sector workers, but a higher proportion in sectors such as childcare and elderly care.

As such, the plan does not mean people will lose jobs, Finance Minister Nicolai Wammen argues at the briefing.

“Some people will have to be re-trained. Others will spend less time in front of the computer and more in front of the public. It’s not something that can be done with a snap of the fingers but we want to set a very clear direction here,” Wammen said.

The government also wants to apply a “rule stop” (regelstop) meaning that every time a new rule is introduced in the public sector which could divert time from into administration, an existing rule must be scrapped. As such, the total number of rules does not increase.

The national organisation for municipalities, KL (Kommunernes Landsforening) expressed skepticism over the plan in comments to DR.

”There are no shortcut solutions in relation to reducing administration and releasing resources for welfare,” KL’s chairperson Martin Damm told the broadcaster.

The proposal would need backing from a majority of parties to be passed in parliament and implemented.

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