What changes could Denmark make to Covid-19 restrictions by end of January?

Denmark’s advisory Epidemic Commission recommended on Wednesday that the country retains several of its current Covid-19 restrictions until the end of January, but some others could be eased.

Denmark's PM Mette Frederiksen in parliament on Wednesday. Some changes to Covid-19 rules could be confirmed this week.
Denmark's PM Mette Frederiksen in parliament on Wednesday. Some changes to Covid-19 rules could be confirmed this week. Photo: Mads Claus Rasmussen/Ritzau Scanpix

The independent expert commission makes recommendations to the government over ongoing management of the pandemic.

Parliament’s Epidemic Committee – not to be confused with the Commission – was scheduled to meet on Wednesday to discuss whether and when to ease some of the current Covid-19 restrictions, including the closure of cinemas and theatres and limits on nightlife.

The Committee includes representatives from each of parliament’s political parties. It must not oppose new restrictions in order for them to come into effect.

Current restrictions on the cultural sector are scheduled to expire on Sunday.

Broadcaster TV2 reported on Wednesday that the Commission has advised that current restrictions on nightlife and licensed premises, which came into effect on December 19th, remain in place until January 31st.

That means sales of alcohol at bars, restaurants and other licensed establishments will remain banned after 10pm, with bars required to close by 11pm. A general shutdown applies to nightclubs.

General sales of alcohol are banned between 10pm and 5am.

The Commission has recommended the easing of some restrictions in other areas, meanwhile.

Concert halls, theatres, cinemas and museums could be allowed to open from January 16th, should the recommendations be adopted. Capacity limits and coronapas and face mask rules would apply.

Capacity rules at churches and other places of worship could also be lifted.

The final decision lies with the politicians on the Committee.

Health Minister Magnus Heunicke said on Tuesday that the government sought to “open as much as possible in the cultural sector as soon as possible”.

The government has called a briefing for 6pm on Wednesday after Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said her administration “intends to follow the recommendations” of the Commission, broadcaster DR reported.

READ ALSO: What are Denmark’s current face mask rules?

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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”.