Denmark’s Covid-19 contact tracing service to release 90 percent of staff

The Covid-19 contact tracing system in Denmark is to be significantly downsized, with most staff to be let go.

A file photo of a poster for Denmark's Covid-19 contact tracing app
A file photo of a poster for Denmark's Covid-19 contact tracing app, Smittestop. Authorities are to release most contact tracing staff with demand down. Photo: Martin Sylvest/Ritzau Scanpix

Reduced demand for contact tracing relative to earlier in the Covid-19 pandemic means that a significant proportion of staff are no longer required, the Danish Patient Safety Authority (Styrelsen fo Patientsikkerhed) told broadcaster DR.

The agency said that April 1st will see the contracts of around 1,000 staff expire, leaving around 100 employees remaining in the service. Around 3,000 people were employed as contact tracers when demand peaked.

The director of the Danish Patient Safety Authority, Anne Lykke Petri, praised contact tracers for their crucial contribution to Denmark’s pandemic response.

“We are fortunately in a different place now and these talented people are fortunately needed in other parts of society,” she said in a Twitter post.

“Thank you from the bottom of my heart for your work,” she wrote.

The 100 contact tracers who will stay on into April will work as advisors when outbreaks occurs at places such as care homes, DR reports.

Contact tracing was put in place during the Covid-19 epidemic in Denmark as part of measures to limit transmission of the coronavirus in the community.

It aimed to find sources of transmission and ask close contacts to them to isolate and take a test for Covid-19. Tracers were also able to advise people who tested positive for the virus how to limit the risk of passing on the virus to others.

The need for this service is now diminished with infection numbers declining and Covid-19 restrictions lifted since early February.

The Danish Health Authority last week changed guidelines on Covid-19 testing, only recommending members of the public to seek a test if there is a “special medical reason” for doing so.

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.

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

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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”.