Danish government says it will scale down Covid-19 rapid test centres

The capacity for Covid-19 testing in Denmark will be reduced from 500,000 to 200,000 rapid antigen tests per day, with more focus on home testing, the Ministry of Health said in a statement on Friday.

A March 2021 file photo from a rapid Covid-19 test centre in Copenhagen. The rapid test centres are to be reduced in capacity in favour of home testing.
A March 2021 file photo from a rapid Covid-19 test centre in Copenhagen. The rapid test centres are to be reduced in capacity in favour of home testing. Photo: Liselotte Sabroe/Ritzau Scanpix

In addition to reducing the number of available tests, the country’s strategy will be “revised in close dialogue with health authorities and external partners,” the ministry said in a statement.

Regional health authorities are responsible for operating PCR test centres in Denmark while rapid antigen tests are offered at privately-run centres contracted to the government.

It is the private test providers whose capacity will be scaled back from 500,000 daily tests to 200,000 daily tests over the next two weeks, with more emphasis to be placed on home testing.

The PCR testing capacity is currently 200,000 tests per day, according to the ministry statement, though official data on Friday showed 268,092 PCR tests had been administered during the last day. PCR tests are not currently available within 24 hours in all locations in Denmark.

Denmark set its latest record for daily Covid-19 infections on Friday, registering over 46,000 new confirmed cases. Test results from the private rapid test centres are not included in this statistic. People who return a positive result from a quick test are advised to then book a PCR test to confirm they have Covid-19.

READ ALSO: Denmark records almost 47,000 new Covid-19 cases

Official data showed 252,522 rapid tests to have been administered in Denmark during the last day on Thursday and 257,386 on Friday.

“Vaccines and easy access to testing have been our Danish super-weapon all the way through the epidemic. We are one of the countries in the world which has tested the most and has come furthest with the third (booster) vaccine dose,” Health Minister Magnus Heunicke said in the statement.

“This is positively reflected in the number of hospitalisations (with Covid-19) and enables us to now wind down the large test capacity and use more home testing, which is a good alternative,” Heunicke said.

Home testing, not commonplace in Denmark in 2021, is now in use at schools, childcare institutions, in the elderly care sector and in the health and social care sector. Home tests are set to be further distributed by regions and municipalities.

READ ALSO: When are Covid-19 home tests used in Denmark?

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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”.