Denmark to allow 1,500 to attend cinemas and indoor venues

A majority in the Danish parliament has agreed to allow attendances of up to 1,500 at indoor culture and sports venues, overruling the minority government.

Crowds of up to 1,500 will be allowed at Danish handball matches along with cultural venues such as cinemas, theatres and concert halls from January 16th.
Crowds of up to 1,500 will be allowed at Danish handball matches along with cultural venues such as cinemas, theatres and concert halls from January 16th. File photo: Bo Amstrup/Ritzau Scanpix

Conservative parties, along with the centre-left Social Liberals (Radikale Venstre), agreed on Thursday to allow venues such as cinemas, theatres, museums, concert venues and sports halls to have attendances of up to 1,500 for events, provided that the crowd is separated into three blocks of 500.

The new rules will apply from Sunday January 16th.

The government had preferred to restrict crowds at venues – which have been closed since December 19th – to 500, which was itself a higher number than the 350 recommended by the advisory Epidemic Commission.

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

“It is clear that when a majority in parliament wants to go a little further than what we proposed, we naturally will comply with that,” said Kasper Sand Kjær, the culture spokesperson with the Social Democrats, who form Denmark’s minority government.

The model of splitting crowds into sections of 500, with separate exits, entrances and seating areas, has previously been used during the pandemic in Denmark at football stadiums, earning it the term the “Superliga model”.

“This is a known model and our culture sector and sports clubs have managed separate sections before. I’m confident that they also will be able to this time,” Kjær said.

“With that said, this is further than the Commission recommends. There is naturally a risk in that,” he added.

Liberal party culture spokesperson Jan E. Jørgensen declared himself satisfied with the government concession.

“I’m very satisfied but what’s important is that the cultural sector is satisfied. Because what the government suggested was of no use at all,” he said.

Thursday saw Denmark’s daily total for new Covid-19 cases back over 25,000 for the first time since last week after a dip in numbers during the weekend.

25,751 new cases were registered from 211,603 PCR tests, giving a positivity rate of 12.17 percent.

755 people with Covid-19 are currently admitted to hospitals nationally, including people admitted for reasons other than Covid-19 but who have returned a positive PCR test.

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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”.