PM says Denmark still faces difficulties with Omicron variant

Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said on Wednesday that Denmark is not clear of the coronavirus crisis and that the Omicron variant remains a potential threat to the country.

Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said that Covid-19 including the Omicron variant remains a threat to Denmark, after some upbeat recent messaging from health officials.
Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said that Covid-19 including the Omicron variant remains a threat to Denmark, after some upbeat recent messaging from health officials. Photo: Ólafur Steinar Rye Gestsson/Ritzau Scanpix

Frederiksen’s comments come in the wake of upbeat messaging from the country’s infectious disease agency, the State Serum Institute, which earlier this week suggested ‘normal’ life could return in two months and that Omicron could eventually contribute to immunity levels in the community.

READ ALSO: Covid-19: Denmark could return to ‘normal life in two months’

The Prime Minister’s comments were made in a Facebook update posted in relation to the reopening of schools on Wednesday.

“The very infectious nature of Omicron can present a challenge to a society such as ours if it is allowed to run loose,” she wrote.

“It can lead to too many hospital admissions at once. And too much and too fast transmission can risk businesses and public institutions having to close,” she wrote.

“Then there won’t be enough people to drive trains, care for children elderly and the sick or keep production moving,” she wrote.

Frederiksen echoed the appeals of health authorities by calling for more parents to get their children vaccinated.

“With the return to school in mind I again encourage parents to consider getting your children vaccinated as soon as possible,” she wrote.

Health spokespersons from the various parliamentary parties were scheduled to attend talks with the health minister, Magnus Heunicke, on Wednesday afternoon.

When the current Covid-19 restrictions were announced in December, parliament agreed to make an assessment by January 5th as to whether it will be necessary to keep the measures in place beyond January 17th. 

Several parties now support easing restrictions after health authorities said the Omicron variant normally causes more mild disease than the previously-dominant Delta variant, but the government has so far rejected calls to make changes.

Frederiksen wrote in regard to restrictions that “they have helped to put a dampener on transmission”.

“And it has been important to put a stop to potential super spreader events, including in nightlife,” she wrote.

The sales of alcohol is currently banned between 10pm and 5am and bars, restaurants and cafes must close at 11pm.

“Authorities are continually monitoring the situation and this will also be discussed with parties in parliament,” Frederiksen wrote.

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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”.