This blog post is part of our Frequently Asked Legal Questions series.
Last week marked Denmark’s Constitution Day, a time I often take to write about Danish legal matters. Much of the Danish celebrations were cancelled or went virtual because of the COIVD-19 pandemic, so I thought what better topic to write about than Denmark’s legal response to COIVD-19. Several of my colleagues have previously written about national COVID-19 responses on this blog. Laney wrote about the response in China, Kelly about the response in New Zealand, Graciela about the response in Spain, Dante about the initial response in Italy, Hanibal about the response in South Africa and the response in Liberia, Clare wrote a two part post about the responses in England, Ruth about the tracking of COVID-19 in Israel, and Tariq about responses in India, and religious authority responses in Pakistan.
1. What is the legal and policy framework for responding to a pandemic?
Responses to contagious disease outbreaks are governed by the Danish Epidemics Act. (Lov om foranstaltninger mod smitsomme sygdomme og andre overførbare sygdomme (Epidemiloven) (LBK 2019-10-01 no. 1026).) On February 27, 2020, Sundheds- og aeldreministern (Danish Minister of Health) added COVID-19 to the list of contagious diseases covered by the law. (LBK 2020-02-27 no. 157.)
On March 12, 2020, the Danish Parliament (Folketinget) passed legislation amending the Epidemics Act using expedited procedures (hastelov). The main change in the law was that it gave the Danish Minister of Health most of the powers that were formerly prescribed to the Epidimikommission (Epidemic Commission), in order to provide for a speedy response to COVID-19. Normally, an Epidemic Commission is made up of representatives from the Danish Health Authority, the police, a doctor, a veterinarian, a customs and tax authority representative, a regional hospital representative, a representative from the Danish Emergency Management Agency, and three members from the regional council. (§ 3 LBK 2019-10-01 no. 126.)
The Danish Parliament has also adopted several additional acts in response to COVID-19, including an amendment to the Sick Pay Act for persons who are high-risk for developing severe symptoms from COVID-19. The amended Sick Pay Act allows high-risk patients to stay home with paid sick leave if accommodations cannot be made to prevent the person from facing a risk of exposure of COVID-19 at the workplace.
2. What quarantine and isolation powers does the government have?
In accordance with the amended Epidemics Act, the Minister of Health can mandate that a person with a contagious disease seek medical treatment, be admitted to a hospital, or isolate at home. (§ 5.) The law also allows the Minister of Health to put a limit on the number of people that may congregate together. If that number is less than ten this must be necessary to prevent the spread of the disease and the Minister of Health must first consult the Danish Health Authority (Sundhedsstyrelsen). (§ 6.) Under the same provision, the Minister of Health may also prohibit people from accessing certain public places in order to prevent the spread of the disease. Moreover, under the amended law, risk groups may be forced to undergo vaccinations. (§ 8.) By amending the Epidemic Act, Parliament also expanded the government’s power, which now includes the right to quarantine certain geographical areas. (§ 7.)
3. What actions has the government taken to limit the spread of COVID-19?
The Danish government initiated a number of measures to stop the spread of COVID-19. On March 11, 2020, it announced the closure of all schools as of March 13, 2020, including elementary schools. All government employees were sent home and asked to stay home. All indoor public institutions such as libraries, theaters, and museums were ordered closed. Gatherings were limited to no more than 100 people. People travelling from areas with a COVID-19 outbreak were ordered to self-quarantine for 14 days.
Also on March 13, 2020, Denmark closed its border to all foreigners, including EU citizens who otherwise enjoy freedom of movement in Denmark. Urging all Danish citizens to return home, at this time it also limited the freedom to congregate in groups larger than ten persons. Greenland, which is a part of Denmark but subject to its own Home Rule Act, adopted a measure forbidding the sale of drinks containing more than 2.25% alcohol between March 28, 2020, and April 15, 2020.
In addition, the Danish Parliament has adopted a number of financial stimulus acts to limit the economic effects of its COVID-19 containment measures.
4. What is the framework for opening up?
Denmark began to reduce the various restrictions on April 20, 2020. It is undergoing a phased reopening. The government reached an agreement, on April 17, 2020, with the other political parties to start phase one of the reopening on April 20, 2020. Students began to return to school with special social distancing protocols in place, including recommendations that were issued to staff on how to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Recommendations include a requirement of one meter (about three feet) between students at all times and two meters (six feet) between students and teachers. Vocational education institutions also opened, but for graduating classes only, on April 20, 2020.
A second agreement with the other political parties in Parliament allowed for phase two to start on May 27, 2020.
Currently, as of June 8, 2020, people are not allowed to congregate in larger numbers than 50 at a time, although demonstrations with more than 50 have been allowed. Under these phased rules, congregating in groups of up to 100 people will be allowed starting July 8, 2020, and 200 starting August 8, 2020. Special rules are under consideration for Danish soccer league games, but have not yet been adopted.
The Danish Parliament has also returned to some of its pre-pandemic voting procedures.
5. What are Denmark’s rules for international travel?
Denmark has limited international travel significantly, allowing only citizens to enter the country as of March 13, 2020. On May 25, 2020, Denmark opened its borders for family members from the Nordic countries (excluding Sweden) and Germany. Persons who live in Sweden but work in Copenhagen are also allowed to enter. Persons who are transiting the country may also enter (for example Swedes may travel from Kastrup Airport).
Starting on June 15, 2020, Denmark will allow Danes to travel to Iceland, Norway, and Germany. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs still advises against all non-essential travel to all other countries, until at least August 31, 2020. Also starting June 15, Denmark will allow tourists from northern Germany (Schleswig-Holstein) to enter Denmark without any further restrictions, i.e. persons without family in Denmark will be allowed to enter.
Danish Media has reported that all Danish students that travel internationally this summer must spend 14 days in self-quarantine before they can return to school. This may have been prompted by an outbreak of COVID-19 linked to some students who visited Sweden, causing their school to close.
6. What is the current status of COVID-19 infections in Denmark?
As of today, June 11, 2020, Denmark has reported 12,035 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including 593 fatalities, and 10,955 recovered. Greenland and the Faroe Islands, which are both part of the Danish Realm, have no active COVID-19 cases and have suffered zero fatalities. The Faroe Islands saw its last confirmed case on April 22, with the person reported as having recovered on May 8, 2020.
7. What are other legal resources related to COVID-19?
For other legal resources related to foreign nations’ response to the pandemic, see: