Danish businesses consider retaining Covid restrictions

Although government-mandated Covid-19 restrictions will largely end in Denmark next week, some businesses are considering keeping rules in some form.

Some Danish companies may continue with Covid-19 measures after national rules are lifted.
Some Danish companies may continue with Covid-19 measures after national rules are lifted. Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash

Businesses in Denmark say they will continue with Covid-19 measures such as face masks, Covid passes and quarantine rules for close contacts even after national rules end, broadcaster DR reports.

Denmark plans to lift its Covid-19 restrictions on February 1st despite record infections, as its high vaccination rate is deemed sufficient against the milder Omicron variant, the health ministry said on Wednesday.

READ ALSO: Denmark confirms plan to lift Covid-19 restrictions on February 1st

The end of restrictions is expected to lead to increased infection numbers. As a result, businesses are considering keeping measures in place to limit the number of staff off sick due to isolation, according to DR’s report.

In addition to the imminent end of coronapas and face mask rules, people considered close contacts to confirmed Covid-19 cases are no longer required to self-isolate unless they develop symptoms or test positive themselves, according to new Danish Health Authority guidelines.

“We are sticking to (asking) people who have family members in their homes who have corona to stay at home until they have tested negative after four and six days, or their family member is out of isolation,” Niels Petersen, CEO of Aarhus company Carletti, which produces sweets, told DR.

The company is already hit by high staff sickness and not asking close contacts to isolate could worsen the situation, he said.

Another company boss said that staff would be asked to continue wearing face masks.

“I fear that we are going from corona being a critical threat to society to a critical threat to businesses,” Michael Hansen, CEO of metal company Nytech, told DR.

The company has already had to delay orders due to staff sickness, he said.

“We will continue the high level with face masks, hand sanitiser and working from home as far as possible. And we will continue to ask staff to take home tests,” he said.

The Confederation of Danish Industry (Dansk Industri) told DR that a number of companies would like to continue using the Covid-19 health pass, the coronapas while others would like to retain face mask rules.

“We will therefore support companies still being able to ask for a coronapas,” DI’s head of employment law Søren Dupont Dall said to the broadcaster.

The Epidemic Commission has recommended allowing businesses to continuing asking customers for a valid Covid-19 pass if they wish to do so, but this has not been applied to staff.

“Right now we have clear laws which give employers the option of seeing a coronapas, but if that law expires it could cause uncertainty. And that is not sensible,” Dupont Dall said.

The organisation nevertheless welcomed the end of restrictions and classification of Covid-19 as a critical threat to society.

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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”.