Denmark becomes first EU country to remove most COVID-19 restrictions

Denmark Tuesday became one of the first European Union country to remove most pandemic restrictions as the Scandinavian country no longer considers the COVID-19[female[feminine epidemic “a socially critical disease.”

The reason is that while the omicron variant is booming in Denmark, it does not weigh heavily on the healthcare system and the country has a high vaccination rate, officials said.

Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen told Danish radio it was too early to know whether measures might have to return.

Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen told Danish radio it was too early to know whether measures might have to return (Mads Claus Rasmussen/Ritzau Scanpix via AP)

“I dare not say this is a final farewell to restrictions,” she said.

“We don’t know what will happen in the fall. If there will be a new variant.”

Denmark, a country of 5.8 million people, has recorded more than 50,000 daily cases on average in recent weeks while the number of people in hospital intensive care units has plummeted.

Other EU countries are also easing the measures. Ireland has dropped most of its restrictions and the Netherlands has also eased its lockdown, although Dutch bars and restaurants must still close at 10 p.m.

The head of the Danish Health Authority, Søren Brostrøm, told Danish broadcaster TV2 his focus was on the number of people in intensive care units, rather than the number of infections. He said that number had “fallen and fallen and is incredibly low”. He said 32 coronavirus patients are in intensive care. A few weeks ago it was 80.

Noerreport metro station in Copenhagen Denmark on February 1, 2022 - Denmark's first day without covid-19 restrictions.
The most visible restriction that is disappearing is the wearing of face masks, which are no longer mandatory on public transport, in shops and for customers standing in indoor areas of restaurants. (Liselotte Sabroe/Ritzau Scanpix)

The most visible restriction that is disappearing is the wearing of face masks, which are no longer mandatory on public transport, in shops and for customers standing in indoor areas of restaurants. Authorities only recommend mask use in hospitals, healthcare facilities and nursing homes.

Another restriction that is no longer required is the digital pass used to enter nightclubs, cafes, party buses, and to sit indoors in restaurants.

Health authorities have urged Danes to get tested regularly so the country can “react quickly if necessary”, as Health Minister Magnus Heunicke said last week.

The Danes “had a lot of success in our national vaccination program throughout 2021, many people received two vaccines, and many also received three doses, and many of these doses were provided in the fourth quarter of 2021” , Jens Lundgren, professor of viral diseases at Copenhagen University Hospital, told The Associated Press.

Passengers at Noerreport station in Copenhagen, Denmark on February 1, 2022. Restrictions have been lifted in Denmark.
Authorities only recommend wearing a mask in hospitals, healthcare facilities and nursing homes (Liselotte Sabroe/Ritzau Scanpix via AP)

More than 60% of the Danish population over the age of 12 has received the third vaccine, according to official figures.

The Danish government has warned the country could see a rise in infections in the coming weeks and said a fourth vaccine may be needed.

The restrictions were initially introduced in July but were lifted around 10 weeks later after a successful vaccination campaign. They were reintroduced when infections soared.

In 2020, Denmark became one of the first European countries to close schools due to the pandemic and send all non-critical public employees home.

Passengers at a bus stop in Copenhagen, Denmark, Tuesday, February 1, 2022.
More than 60% of the Danish population over the age of 12 has received the third vaccine, according to official figures (Liselotte Sabroe/Ritzau Scanpix via AP)

On Tuesday, the Norwegian daily Dagbladet reported the first case of COVID-19 on the island of Utsira in the North Sea.

“We avoided it for two years,” Mayor Marte Eide Klovning told Dagbladet, adding that the island’s 188 residents had been vaccinated.

It was unclear how the virus reached the island, located about 120 kilometers south of Bergen, Norway’s second largest city.

A customer walks out of a supermarket in Copenhagen, Denmark on Tuesday February.  1, 2022.
In 2020, Denmark became one of the first European countries to close schools due to the pandemic and send home all non-critical public employees (Liselotte Sabroe/Ritzau Scanpix via AP)

Rest of Europe a patchwork

Some other nations were moving in the same direction as Denmark.

England last week lifted almost all national restrictions: masks are not compulsory anywhere, vaccine passes are not required for any location and people are no longer advised to work from home. The only legal obligation is to self-isolate after a positive COVID-19 test.

Ireland has dropped most of its restrictions and the Netherlands has also eased its lockdown, although Dutch bars and restaurants must still close at 10 p.m.

France – which is still reporting the highest daily positive cases on the continent – plans to lift some restrictions on Wednesday, including rules on outdoor masks in Paris, a part-time work-from-home order and limits on height crowds. But face masks are still compulsory indoors in many public places, nightclubs are closed and eating or drinking is prohibited in cinemas, stadiums or on public transport.

Finland will end its COVID-19 restrictions this month. On Monday, border controls between Finland and the other Schengen countries that form the European travel zone without identity checks ended. Travelers from outside the EU will continue to be subject to border controls until at least February 14.

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In Serbia, there are hardly any controls, so the few rules in place – mandatory face masks in closed spaces, passes for bars, restaurants and clubs in the evening and only 500 people at events – do not mean not much. Discotheques have been open since the beginning.

Italy, however, gradually tightened its health pass requirements during the omicron push. Since Monday, Italy requires at least one negative test in the previous 48 hours to enter banks and post offices, and anyone over 50 who has not been vaccinated faces a one-time fine of €100. ($159).

Austria has imposed a vaccination mandate which comes into effect this month and Greece has ordered fines for people aged 60 and over who refuse to be vaccinated. German politicians, meanwhile, have opened a debate about whether to impose a national vaccination mandate.