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COVID-19 RULES

Government advisors say Denmark can end Covid-19 restrictions on February 1st

The Epidemic Commission, which advises the government on management of the Covid-19 pandemic, has issued new recommendations in relation to whether restrictions should continue. Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen is expected to make an announcement on Wednesday.

Denmark could scrap rules requiring face masks in stores and on public transport, along with other Covid-19 restrictions, at the end of January.
Denmark could scrap rules requiring face masks in stores and on public transport, along with other Covid-19 restrictions, at the end of January. Photo: Mads Claus Rasmussen/Ritzau Scanpix

The Commission said it recommends the end of current Covid-19 restrictions on January 31st, but that entry test and isolation rules for travel to Denmark are extended. Face mask use at hospitals and in elderly care should continue, it also said.

Travel rules should be based on the model used until rules were tightened in late December, the Commission said.

Should the recommendations of the Commission be followed, Covid-19 will also cease being categorised as a critical threat to society.

The classification, currently scheduled to expire on January 5th, is important because it impacts the ability of the government to introduce restrictions aimed at curbing spread of the virus.

Frederiksen is expected to make an announcement at a briefing on Wednesday.

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Current Covid-19 restrictions include requirements to wear a face mask on public transport, in stores and a list of other public settings; and the use of the Covid-19 health pass, the coronapas, at restaurants, cafes, gyms and long-distance rail and bus services amongst other settings.

In its recommendations issued late on Tuesday, the Commission stated that Denmark is now in a “new epidemic situation where high and increasing transmissions do not transfer to admissions to hospitals to the same extent as before”.

While daily infection totals have continued to grow in recent weeks, the number of patients in hospital with Covid-19 has not increased by a corresponding amount and the number of patients admitted to ICUs has begun to decline.

An additional 46,950 new cases of the virus were registered on Tuesday with hospital patients with Covid-19 up to 918. This includes 222 people admitted to psychiatric wards who have Covid-19 but it is not the cause of their admission.

44 patients at Danish hospitals are under intensive care treatment for Covid-19, with 28 of them receiving ventilator treatment.

“The decline in admissions is probably due to the effect of booster vaccination as well as the lesser ability of Omicron to elicit serious illness,” the Commission stated in its recommendations.

Although it no longer believes Covid-19 should be classed a critical threat to society, some measures to limit transmission are still beneficial, it said.

As such, large indoor events could be asked to use the coronapas and social distancing measures, and workplaces could take precautions to protect staff once home working ends, it said.

In general, the advisory board advocated a switch in focus from requirements and rules to recommendations.

A final decision on changes to restrictions is taken by the government, which must get approval from a majority in parliament before implementing changes.

The Epidemic Commission gives both medical and economic advice to the government regarding its ongoing management of the pandemic.

Its members include representatives from all the various health authorities as well as the National Police. Senior civil servants from various ministries are also present.

The government and parliament generally broadly follow the recommendations made by the Commission.

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COVID-19 RULES

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”.

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