Denmark, the first country to introduce the covid passport six months ago, abolished the requirement in most public places on 1 September, just days before it lifts all restrictions.
The move comes despite fears of a fourth wave in Europe. While the epidemic is considered under control in Denmark, where vaccination levels are high (71% of the population over the age of 12 are fully vaccinated), authorities warned that it is far from over.
“It’s a bit of a special day,” says Eric Poezevara, a restaurant owner in Copenhagen. “We’re not going to miss it, but I think it was a very good idea to introduce it, because it was the starting point for hope,” he told Agence France Presse before the crowded lunch crowd arrived.
The covid passes, which certify that the holder is fully vaccinated or has had a negative PCR test within the last 72 hours, were launched in March when the country’s zoos reopened to the public, the first restriction to be lifted. Available on an app or on paper, the pass was always planned as a temporary requirement and would initially expire on October 1.
On Wednesday, however, the pass was no longer required in cafes, bars, restaurants, gyms and hairdressers in Denmark. It will still be required, however, at major indoor public events and nightclubs, which reopened in the early hours of Wednesday. Later on 10 September, all restrictions will be lifted.
The country, which has recorded 2,500 covid deaths, already removed its requirement for face masks on public transport in mid-August. And on 1 August, it removed the covid pass requirement at museums and indoor events with fewer than 500 people. “The epidemic is under control, we have record levels of vaccination,” health minister Magnus Heunicke congratulated himself last month.
However, Heunicke warned that with around 1,000 cases a day still being recorded, “the epidemic is not over”, and promised that Mette Frederiksen’s social democratic government would re-impose restrictions quickly if necessary.
According to the European branch of the World Health Organisation, Denmark is a “champion in vaccine coverage”. The Nordic country is able to ease restrictions because of its comprehensive virus sequencing and tracking programme that allows officials to know which variant they are dealing with and how contagious it is.
Denmark’s “health system is able to implement a large-scale testing strategy and includes genomic sequencing,” WHO director for Europe Hans Kluge noted on Monday.
Unlike Sweden, which during the first wave of the pandemic opted for looser restrictions, Denmark was one of the first European countries in March 2020 to close borders, schools, universities, leisure and non-essential shops to try to curb cases of the coronavirus.
However, scientists have warned that lifting the restrictions altogether could lead to an increase in coronavirus cases among unvaccinated people.
“There is general agreement in Denmark that we should relax the way we deal with coronavirus,” epidemiologist Viggo Andreasen of Roskilde University tells Ritzau news agency. “Since most infections now occur in children and young adults, the severity of the disease has decreased significantly. Therefore, further restrictions are no longer justified. On Wednesday, 21 covid-19 patients remained in intensive care units.
Autumn, however, will inevitably bring an increase in infections and hospitalisations. “It is very realistic to think that about half of the unvaccinated population will be infected in the next three to four months,” leading to an increase in hospitalisations, warns Andreasen.
However, travellers entering Denmark must still present a green passport or a negative PCR test.