Copenhagen: Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen says her government's efforts to fight COVID-19 have been so successful that the country may now be facing a broader rollback of its lockdown than originally planned.
Stengaard School before the reopening of the school after the coronavirus lockdown, in Gladsaxe, Denmark.Credit:AP
On Wednesday, Denmark will release its youngest citizens from a month-long lockdown in a move that has already fuelled considerable controversy.
Babies will return to daycare centres, kindergartens will open their doors, and primary schools will resume in-class lessons for children up to the age of 13.
The government says the move, which follows signs that Denmark's early COVID-19 restrictions paid off, will let parents focus on their jobs and keep the economy going.
But the model has drawn a good deal of criticism.
A Facebook group of parents quickly got over 40,000 supporters with the rubric, "My child won't be a lab rat!"
Denmark Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen has won praise for her handling of the pandemic.Credit:AP
They say there are too many unknowns about COVID-19 for it to be safe to expose their children to the risk of contagion. Many parents have threatened to boycott the government's plan.
Denmark is adopting a different approach to Austria, which on Tuesday became the first European Union nation to roll back its lockdown by opening some shops, while leaving its schools closed.
Businesses have applauded Frederiksen's approach. Lars Sandahl Sorensen, director of the Confederation of Danish Industry, called the prime minister's Tuesday announcement "a good piece of news in a difficult time."
But the different models across countries show how little agreement there is on how best to handle the ongoing crisis. Denmark has fielded expressions of interest from other EU nations on its decisions around COVID-19, according to a government official who's not authorised to be cited by name.
Denmark, like other countries, is weighing the health risks against the catastrophic economic damage of a protracted lockdown. Frederiksen's government estimates a slow return to normal would wipe 6 per cent off GDP, double the contraction seen in a quick re-opening of the economy.
"It's far too simplistic to treat health and economy as opposing interests," Frederiksen, whose popularity has soared in recent weeks, said. Opening too soon could result in COVID-19 spreading faster, which would ultimately hurt the economy, she said.
It's not only young children that are about to return to a slightly more normal existence. Hospitals and doctor's practices will start offering services aside from the treatment of COVID-19, to ensure the spread of the virus doesn't lead to a broader health crisis.
Frederiksen has made clear that any signs of a rebound in contagion rates would trigger an instant return to the tightest restrictions. Meanwhile, the Danish border will stay closed, travel curbs will remain in place and bars, cafes and restaurants will still be shuttered.
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Bans on groups larger than 10 will continue to hold, meaning classroom sizes will be dramatically reduced compared with before the lockdown. The government is still talking with business leaders on how best to phase in a return to office work for Denmark's working population.
As of Tuesday, Denmark had 6496 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 299 deaths related to the virus.
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