COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — The Danish government said Wednesday it would lift most pandemic restrictions next week, even as neighboring Sweden extended its own measures for another fortnight.
Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said that from February 1, Danes will have free access to restaurants, cafes, museums and nightclubs, while wearing masks will cease to be compulsory.
“We are saying goodbye to restrictions and welcoming the life we knew before” the pandemic, Frederiksen said. “From February 1, Denmark will be open.”
Denmark currently requires face masks on public transport, in shops, for customers standing in indoor areas of restaurants, and for people entering hospitals, healthcare facilities and nursing homes. As of February 1, the government will only recommend wearing a mask in hospitals, healthcare establishments and residences for the elderly.
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Frederiksen said 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.
“It may seem odd that we want to remove restrictions given the high infection rates,” she said. “But fewer people are getting seriously ill.”
Denmark has recorded more than 46,000 daily cases on average in recent weeks, but only 40 people are currently in hospital intensive care units – compared to 80 a few weeks ago – said Minister of Health Magnus Heunicke.
Heunicke urged Danes to get tested regularly. “We continue with strong epidemic surveillance. Then we … can react quickly if necessary.”
Frederiksen warned that Denmark could see an increase in infections in the coming weeks, adding that a fourth vaccine may be needed.
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The restrictions being lifted next week were originally introduced in July but were lifted around ten 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 sent home all non-critical public employees.
Earlier Thursday, Sweden extended several coronavirus restrictions for two weeks.
Social Affairs Minister Lena Hallengren said the country, which had previously stood out among European nations for its relatively hands-off response to the pandemic, has “an extremely high spread of infection”.
Karin Tegmark Wisell, head of Sweden’s Public Health Agency, said infections should decrease within weeks. She said Sweden had recorded 270,000 new infections in the past week and “our assessment is that during this period at least half a million may fall ill per week”.
Sweden ordered cafes, bars and restaurants to close at 11 p.m. and urged people to work from home when possible.
In another Scandinavian country, Finland, Prime Minister Sanna Marin tweeted that “the government will assess the need for (the) restrictions”. She added that she “should consider opening low-risk cultural and sporting events with a COVID pass and extending restaurant hours earlier than planned.”