Denmark says Covid-19 testing now only needed for ‘special medical reasons’

The Danish Health Authority has changed its recommendations on when people with suspected Covid-19 should be tested for the coronavirus.

A file photo showing the exit at a Danish Covid-19 test centre.
A file photo showing the exit at a Danish Covid-19 test centre. The country on March 10th relaxed guidelines for its public testing provisions. Photo: Henning Bagger/Ritzau Scanpix

In a statement released on Thursday, the health authority said that Covid-19 testing was now only recommended if there is a “special medical reason” for doing so.

“We can now make do with only going for a test if there is a special medical reason for doing so,” the head of department with the Danish Health Authority Bolette Søborg said in the statement.

Special medical reasons can include situations in which the result of a test can confirm the need for early treatment for Covid-19 to reduce the risk of developing serious disease.

Certain demographics are more likely to need early treatment for the coronavirus. These include people aged over 65 and others who are at risk of serious illness with Covid-19 due to existing medical conditions. Pregnant women are also considered part of this group.

“It is therefore important that this group goes for a test as soon as possible if they get symptoms of Covid-19 and feel unwell, and that they contact their doctor,” Søborg said.

The new guidelines mean that large parts of the Danish population no longer need to take a test if they experience Covid-19 symptoms. Neither to close contacts to people with Covid-19 need to take a test.

The health authority said good control of the Covid-19 epidemic in Denmark now means that testing rules can be relaxed.

Infection numbers have fallen and the number of new hospitalisations with the virus is low and stable, the authority said.

Testing is still needed more frequently in the health and social care sector, however.

That includes parts of the health service and elderly care in which the presence of vulnerable people means outbreaks must be kept under control.

Contact tracing will also be initiated when infections are detected in those areas.

The Danish Health Authority said it remains important to limit transmission of Covid-19 through good hygiene practises.

People who feel unwell should continue to stay home so as not to risk infecting others, it said.

READ ALSO: Covid infections in Denmark at lowest since January

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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”.