COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said Friday her country will reopen its borders next month – with strings attached – to residents of neighboring Germany, as well as Norway and Iceland, as Denmark accelerates its lockdown easing.
But people from the rest of the world will effectively have to wait until after the summer.
Denmark was the second country in Europe, after Italy, to impose a strict nationwide lockdown, on March 11, and the quick response has been credited with keeping reported infections and deaths comparatively low.
The borders with Germany, Norway and Iceland will open on June 15 but ”with restrictions,” Frederiksen told an online news conference, including no stays in the Danish capital, Copenhagen.
“Visits, strolls in the capital is ok but not overnight stays,” Health Minister Magnus Heunicke said.
And for the rest of Denmark, visitors will have to document that they will stay for at least six nights, Justice Minister Nick Haekkerup said.
“So far, we have done well as a country,” Frederiksen said. “We have the infection under control. We can feel an optimism spreading in the country. And also an impatience, which is totally understandable.”
“But we must underline that we are not over the corona crisis,” she said.
A decision as to whether to reopen the border to fellow Scandinavian country Sweden — which has reported one of the highest mortality rates in the world with 4,350 fatalities, and lies across a narrow strait from eastern Denmark — has been postponed until after the summer, Frederiksen said.
The same applies to Denmark’s 26 sister countries in Europe’s ID check-free travel zone, known as the Schengen Area.
Sweden’s relatively soft approach to combating the virus has attracted international attention. Large gatherings were banned but restaurants and schools for younger children have stayed open. The government has urged social distancing, and Swedes have largely complied. Authorities in Sweden have been criticized — and have apologized — for failing to protect the elderly, and nursing home residents.
Conversely, Denmark imposed an early lockdown on March 11 — having reported its first case on Feb. 27, in a traveler from northern Italy — closing schools, cultural institutions, public offices and private businesses. Since then things have gone so well that the first measures have been reversed.
At first, Frederiksen held almost daily televised briefings. The country idled. Buses and subway cars ran almost empty. Supermarkets stayed open, with stickers telling queuing customers to keep distances — first 2 meters (6.6 feet), later 1 meter. Temporary COVID-19 test centers mushroomed in parks and parking lots near hospitals.
According to official figures, 11,400 people have tested positive for the coronavirus in Denmark, which has a population of 5.8 million, and fewer than 600 others have died.
By early April, Denmark said it had managed to control the outbreak and started returning to normal April 14.
Phase one was kindergarten and primary school children. Weeks later began phase two with hairdressers, dentists and tattoo parlors. That was later expanded to include places of worship, cinemas, shopping malls, restaurants, cafes, bars and secondary schools.
Now hospitals have started winding down their corona-preparedness but can ramp up intensive care units again if needed.
Phase three is set for June 8 and it is expected to increase maximum gatherings from 10 to 30-50 people, according to Danish media.
Many health experts attribute the success to Danes’ confidence in authorities and the country’s well-oiled, tax-financed health care system. And now Danish officials say they do not even expect a second wave.
“By reacting quickly, we put ourselves in a good situation,” Allan Randrup Thomsen, professor in virology at Copenhagen University, told The Associated Press.
“We know that everything went well by reopening the (lower classes in) schools and nothing came from there,” he said, but cautioned: “Later on, we re-opened more or less everything simultaneously, making it more difficult to find out if something went wrong and where it happened.”
Frederiksen warned Danes against believing they soon would live in a world with pre-pandemic habits.
“As long as there is a global pandemic, there is a risk that we will have to reintroduce some restrictions,” she said. “(But) we are not working … with a plan for a lockdown like March 11.”
Follow AP coverage of the pandemic at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.