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  • Sophie Honary

Denmark Lifts All COVID-19 Restrictions

Amid still relatively high coronavirus cases, Denmark has become the first European Union (EU) country to lift nearly all of its domestic Covid-19 restrictions. The country dropped all restrictions in September 2021 but reintroduced regulations two months later, in early November later after its "miscalculation." Now, the Scandinavian country has once again lifted restrictions.

Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen announced the lift on Tuesday, February 1, 2022, which was confirmed in a press release by Denmark’s Ministry of Health. The Prime Minister later welcomed the lift on Facebook, writing "good morning to a completely open Denmark ."In addition to dropping mask mandates, nightclubs have reopened, and the Danish Covid-19 app is no longer required when entering public facilities. These rollbacks come in spite of the fact that, according to the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), COVID-19 poses a serious health risk to all countries in Europe.

Denmark is no exception to the ECDC warnings. The country is recorded to have more than 41,000 infections, primarily due to the Omicron variation. The World Health Organization (WHO) indicates that Denmark has had 304388 new registered Covid-19 cases within a week prior to the lift. Still, more than 80% of Denmark's population has had two vaccinations, and over 60% has had the third booster dose, whereas the EU average is 45%. In addition to the vaccinations approved by the European Medicines Agency (EMA), the Scandinavian country also offers Covexin, Covishield, Sinopharm, and Sinovac.

In areas such as Copenhagen, there is a feeling of relief in regard to the restriction lift. Countless Danes, in commenting on the lift, express content. Pia Clement, a Dane citizen of Copenhagen, says that “we also need to go back to normal, otherwise it might never end.” On Saturday, February 5, 2022, Copenhagen’s nightclubs were once again overwhelmed by thousands of Danes — a scene that has been absent since COVID regulations were mandated. This end of restrictions has been praised by the majority of the population of Denmark and has many hopeful that other countries can endure Covid-19 with high vaccination rates, large testing capacities, and strong health data infrastructure.

The director of the Copenhagen-based Statens Serum Institute, Troels Lillebaek, says that dropping restrictions and reopening places like nightclubs will likely lead to a spike in infections in mid-February. However, according to Lillebaek, authorities seem to be more focused on the number of hospitalizations rather than on infection cases. One of these authorities is Danish researcher Michael Bang Peterson.

"Our hospitals are not being overwhelmed. We have excellent data surveillance of our hospital system in Denmark,” Peterson notes. “And when we look at the number of people in ICUs, it’s dropping. We have a lot of people in hospitals with positive tests, but most of them are testing positive with COVID rather than being there because of COVID.”

Despite the recorded 41,000 infection cases, Denmark’s “combination of high vaccine coverage plus a milder variant means this wave isn’t stressing [their] hospital systems as much.”

However, without regulations, Epidemiologist Lone Simonsen of the University of Roskilde says, “there will be a shift of responsibility.” She stresses that the usage of home tests has been gradually declining, but those with symptoms are still recommended to stay home and quarantine for four days even though the mandatory quarantine requirement for those infected has also been dropped. However, Simonsen reaffirms her support for the scaling back of restrictions, adding, "with Omicron not being a severe disease for the vaccinated, we believe it is reasonable to lift restrictions."

Other countries in Europe have begun to follow Denmark’s lead on coronavirus restrictions. Italy’s Prime Minister Mario Draghi has issued an easing on some of the nation’s regulations, including ending distance learning for primary and secondary schools. Italy has also changed its traveler requirements. Now, all that is needed to enter public spaces like hotels and restaurants is a negative test instead of both a vaccination pass and a test. Ireland has dropped its capacity limits for large venues. Still, it requires travelers to carry proof of vaccination status. France has also lifted its audience capacity limits of 2,000 people indoors and 5,000 outdoors, in addition to its outdoor mask mandate. In Sweden, restrictions on closing times for bars and restaurants and in Norway, close-contact quarantining and traveler testing prior to arrival have been rolled back.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has warned that it is premature to stop or ease Covid-19 restrictions. In response to Denmark’s lift, Tedros cautioned that “this virus is dangerous, and it continues to evolve before our very eyes.” Despite the mildness of the Omicron variant, the WHO stresses the need to track emerging variants and that countries continue with discretion. WHO's organization's technical lead on Covid-19, Maria Van Kerkhove, spoke out on the situation, saying, "now is not the time to lift everything all at once. We have always urged, always [be] very cautious, in applying interventions as well as lifting those interventions steadily and slowly, piece by piece because this virus is quite dynamic.” Fredrik Elgh, professor of virology at Sweden’s Umea University, has stated that European countries lifting COVID restrictions need to “have a little more patience” and hold off on easing regulations for a few more weeks. He continues on that “we are wealthy enough to keep testing…the disease is still a huge strain on society.”

While some remain concerned that European countries are jumping the gun in relaxing COVID regulations, public pressure to return normalcy has overridden these concerns for the time being. Denmark demonstrates the ways in which governments are responding to the growing and palpable desire to finally claim victory over the virus. In the era in which the COVID-19 pandemic has become the COVID-19 endemic, Denmark’s latest initiatives may offer a guide for managing public health in the coming years.

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