After taking a cautious approach for much of the coronavirus pandemic, Denmark is breaking ranks with some of its neighbors with far-reaching plans to ease lockdown over the coming weeks.
An agreement signed off by nine of the 10 parties in the Danish parliament this week provided a timetable for the relaxation of restrictions in stages every two weeks starting April 6. If all goes to plan, the country would open up fully just as all over-50s have been vaccinated, but before many of those under that age have had their jabs.
From April 6, certain services including hairdressers will reopen and students will continue a process of returning to schools and colleges. Smaller shopping centers will also be allowed to receive customers.
From April 21, larger shopping centers, restaurants and cafes with outdoor dining will open while indoor dining will be allowed from May 6. By the end of May, virtually all of Danish society is expected to be open, although the agreement suggests some questions remain over what to do about gatherings at major events and with nightclubs.
The timing of the completion of the reopening — the end of May — will coincide with the point at which the government expects all over-50s to have been vaccinated, and when the agreement says risks posed by COVID to individuals and the Danish health service overall will have “fallen markedly.”
“We have now a broad political plan which will give many Danes more of their daily lives back,” Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen told a press conference earlier this week.
Underpinning the plan is what the Danish government is calling a “corona passport,” which is documentation via an app or a piece of paper that Danes can show to prove they have been vaccinated against coronavirus, or have tested negative during the preceding 72 hours.
They will need to show this passport to enter many of the establishments that are reopening.
So far any resistance to the idea of reopening by the end of May appears to have been fairly muted inside Denmark. What criticism there has been of the plan appears to have been directed at the corona passports rather than the science behind ending lockdown.
The one party which did not sign up to the agreement, the New Right, did so because it feared the corona passport gave the government unwarranted new powers.
“We don’t buy the premise that a corona passport is necessary to reopen society,” party leader Pernille Vermund said.
A reopening by the end of May would set Denmark apart from many of its neighbors where strategies for reopening remain more cautious.
Sweden has famously taken a more relaxed approach to lockdown measures throughout the pandemic, but authorities there have said that the measures it does have — which include tight regulations on the number of people allowed to enter shops — are to remain in place.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday retreated from a plan to tighten her country’s lockdown over Easter — because of a lack of time to implement the changes — but she added that she still believed there were “good reasons” for such a move.
German Social Democrat lawmaker Karl Lauterbach wrote on social media that he believed Denmark’s reopening represented a “spectacular mistake” which would cost lives.
Meanwhile in the U.K., where the rate of vaccine doses is 46 per 100 people and COVID cases are falling, calls for a swifter exit from lockdown than the government’s current plan are growing louder.
The process “could safely go more quickly to save jobs and businesses,” Conservative lawmaker Mark Harper said Thursday.
Such advocates are likely to follow the example of Denmark with interest.
Danish leader Frederiksen said that her country’s reopening would be contingent on rates of COVID-19 remaining low, and regional or national restrictions could be reintroduced if the outlook worsened.
“We will move forward carefully, as we want to avoid a third wave of coronavirus, a wave which is hitting a lot of European countries hard,” Frederiksen said.