Covid-19: Denmark eases culture restrictions but keeps nightlife curbs

Denmark’s government has confirmed the re-opening of cultural institutions, which have been closed due to Covid-19 since December 19th.  

Danish health minister Magnus Heunicke and culture minister Ane Halsboe-Jørgensen present changes to the country's Covid-19 restrictions. The new rules take effect on January 16th.
Danish health minister Magnus Heunicke and culture minister Ane Halsboe-Jørgensen present changes to the country's Covid-19 restrictions. The new rules take effect on January 16th. Photo: Mads Claus Rasmussen/Ritzau Scanpix

A maximum of 500 people will be allowed into indoor venues including theatres, cinemas, museums, sports halls and conference centres. Amusement parks are also allowed to reopen.

A capacity requirement at places of worship is also revoked.

The new rules come into effect on January 16th.

Some of the restrictions introduced in December remain in place: Bars and restaurants still have to close at 11pm and the sale of alcohol remains be banned from 10pm to 5am.

The extended restrictions are now scheduled to expire on January 31st.

“It’s too early to let go of the tiller,” Health Minister Magnus Heunicke said as the changes were presented at a government briefing on Wednesday evening.

The rule changes were confirmed following a meeting of the parliamentary Epidemic Committee, which must agree to any proposed changes to Covid restrictions. The committee includes representatives from each of the parties in parliament.

Expected changes to the validity period of the coronapas, Denmark’s Covid-19 health pass, were also rubber-stamped by the committee on Wednesday.

Under current rules, a coronapas is valid for seven months after a person is fully vaccinated, meaning they have received their second or final dose of the Covid-19 vaccine.

The new rules reduce that validity period to five months. The coronapas becomes valid again or remains valid if the holder has received a booster vaccination.

According to the rule changes tabled by the government to the Epidemic Committee earlier this week, the period for which the coronapas becomes invalid following a positive PCR test for Covid-19 is reduced from 14 days to 11 days under the new rules. It remains valid until five months after the positive PCR test (unless the holder subsequently receives a second or booster vaccine dose).

The coronapas change also comes into effect on Sunday January 16th. Requirements to show the health pass on intercity trains, as well as face mask rules on public transport, have been extended until January 31st, the Transport Ministry said in a statement.

Heunicke suggested during the briefing that it is likely some restrictions on nightlife will remain beyond the end of this month.

The director of the Danish Health Authority, Søren Brostrøm, meanwhile stated that the Omicron variant, now dominant in Denmark, causes milder disease than the earlier Delta variant.

“If you are ill with Omicron and go to hospital, there’s a good chance you’ll be less sick than with Delta,” Brostrøm said.

READ ALSO: Denmark confirms change to coronapas validity period

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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”.