Denmark confirms plan to reintroduce face mask rules

The Danish government said on Wednesday it plans to reintroduce face mask requirements on public transport and in supermarkets and other consumer settings. Rules relating to the coronapas Covid-19 health pass could also be broadened.

Danish health minister Magnus Heunicke briefs press on the plan to reintroduce facemask rules in response to a winter 2021 surge of Covid-19 cases.
Danish health minister Magnus Heunicke briefs press on the plan to reintroduce facemask rules in response to a winter 2021 surge of Covid-19 cases. Photo: Nils Meilvang/Ritzau Scanpix

Health Minister Magnus Heunicke confirmed at a ministry press briefing on Wednesday that the government will seek to reimplement face mask rules requiring the protective garment to be worn on public transport and in stores.

“We have a different epidemic in front of us now. The Delta variant is much more infectious and it is a challenge for us. We must therefore put these tools into use,” Heunicke said.

The government also wants to bring back face mask requirements in health and social care settings such as hospitals, clinics and community care.

The move, which is a recommendation from the government’s advisory Epidemic Commission, must not be opposed by the relevant parliamentary committee in order to come into effect.

The committee will meet tomorrow, Heunicke said at the briefing.

Should the committee approve the measure, it could come into effect from Monday November 29th, the minister said.

A total of 4,426 new cases of the virus were confirmed by infectious disease agency State Serum Institute (SSI) on Wednesday. That is the highest figure yet in 2021, breaking the record set 24 hours prior.

Face mask rules were previously in place in Denmark from autumn 2020 before being phased out during summer 2021, and were fully lifted in August.

In addition to the return of face masks, the government wants to change the rules on the Covid-19 health pass used in Denmark, the coronapas.

Specifically, the period for which a negative Covid-19 test gives a valid coronapas will be reduced to 72 hours for a negative PCR test and 48 hours for a negative rapid antigen test.

Currently, unvaccinated people can hold a valid coronapas for 96 hours through a negative PCR test, or 72 hours with a rapid antigen test.

“The old rules prevent 50 percent of infections. The new rules prevent two thirds of infections [compared to not using a coronapas in the same settings, ed.],” Henrik Ullum, the head of the national infectious disease agency SSI, said at the briefing.

The health pass will also be extended to be required at public sector workplaces and vocational and youth colleges (voksen- og ungdomsuddannelser), as well as at hairdressers, tattooists and similar services. Visitors to elderly care homes will also be required to present a coronapas.

It is currently required at bars, cafes, restaurants and large events.

The director of the Danish Health Authority Søren Brostrøm said at the briefing that health authorities were not in favour of applying coronapas rules to public transport.

“It would be a big job to check for a green coronapas on public transport. We have therefore concluded that face masks would be the most efficient (option),” Brostrøm said.

“You might also need to be on public transport without a green coronapas because you are on your way to get a test,” he noted.

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Italy lifts mask mandate for private sector workers

Masks will no longer be required in the workplace but Italian companies will have the right to impose restrictions for employees deemed "at risk".

Italy lifts mask mandate for private sector workers

Representatives from the Italian Ministry of Labour, Ministry of Health and all major national unions collectively signed off on Thursday a new “shared protocol” (protocollo condiviso) for the implementation of anti-Covid measures in private workplaces. 

Although the full text of the bill will only be made available to the public sometime next week, portions of the document have already been released to the media, thus disclosing the government’s next steps in the fight against the virus.

The most relevant update concerns face masks, which will no longer be mandatory in private workplaces. 

However, the text specifies, FFP2 face masks remain “an important protective item aimed at safeguarding workers’ health”. As such, employers will have the right to autonomously impose the use of face coverings on categories of workers considered “at risk”.

READ ALSO: Italy’s transport mask rule extended to September as Covid rate rises

Notably, face coverings may remain mandatory for those working in “indoor settings shared by multiple employees” or even in “outdoor settings where social distancing may not be practicable”. Individuals with pre-existing medical conditions (soggetti fragili) may also be subject to such rules, which, it is worth reminding, are left to the employer’s discretion. 

Alongside mask-related restrictions, employers will also have the right to have their staff undergo temperature checks prior to entering the workplace. In such cases, anyone with a body temperature higher than 37.5C will be denied access to the workplace and will be asked to temporarily self-isolate pending further indications from their own doctor.

In line with previous measures, companies will be required to continue supplying sanitising products free of charge and regulate access to common areas (canteens, smoking areas, etc.) so as to avoid gatherings.

Additionally, employers will be advised to keep incentivising smart working (lavoro agile), as it has proved to be “a valuable tool to curb infection, especially for at-risk individuals”.

Provided that the country’s infection curve registers no significant changes, the updated protocol will remain in place until October 31st, when it will yet again be reviewed by the relevant governmental and social parties. 

With the latest round of measures, Italy has now scrapped all Covid-related health measures, except the requirement to wear face masks on public transport (though not on planes) and in healthcare settings, and self-isolation provisions for those testing positive. 

READ ALSO: At a glance: What are the Covid-19 rules in Italy now?

Italy’s infection curve has been rising significantly since the beginning of June. From June 1st to June 14th, Covid’s R (spreading rate) rate rose back over 1 for the first time since April 8th. Also, from June 17th to June 23rd, the virus’s incidence rate was 504 cases every 100,000 residents, up by 62 per cent on the previous week.

According to Claudio Mastroianni, Professor of Infectious Diseases at Sapienza University of Rome, “with 25 per cent of daily Covid swabs coming back positive and a R rate over 1, the infection curve will likely rise at least until mid-July”.

However, albeit acknowledging the rising number of positive cases, Deputy Health Minister Andrea Costa has so far categorically excluded the possibility of re-introducing lapsed Covid measures, saying that it’ll be a “restriction-free summer”.