With Christmas COVID Surge Looming, Denmark Closes Public Venues, Limits Gatherings

Denmark will soon see public venues like theaters and museums closed, restaurant curfews go into effect and limits on gatherings advised as the country looks to squash a recent surge in COVID-19 cases.

Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen announced the new measures, most of which will take effect early Sunday, six days before Christmas.

The country of about 5.8 million people, according to the World Bank, registered more than 11,000 new cases on Friday and a slightly lower 9,999 new cases on Thursday, Frederiksen said. Health authorities have said that COVID-19 case numbers and hospitalizations are increasing more rapidly than anticipated.

In addition to theaters and museums, cinemas, concert halls, amusement parks and art galleries will also be required to shut doors with the new restrictions. Stores smaller than 2,000 square meters, the equivalent of 21,528 square feet, and restaurants must also limit the number of patrons allowed inside at one time.

Additionally, restaurants are required to close by 11 p.m. and the government is advising people to restrict the number of people they see over the holidays. Public and private companies are also being encouraged by the government to have employees work remotely when possible.

Frederiksen said while announcing the restrictions Friday that while the government isn't imposing a full-fledged lockdown, the partial shutdown is needed to contain the virus' spread.

"Our goal is still to keep as large sections of society open as possible. We need to curb activity. We all need to limit our social contacts," she said.

Denmark COVID Restrictions
Denmark will soon see various public venues like theaters and museums closed, restaurant curfews go into effect and gathering limit advisements as the country looks to squash a recent surge in COVID-19 cases. Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen (center right) meets store owners who reopened their stores in Elsinore on March 1, 2021. Mads Claus Rasmussen/Ritzau Scanpix/Getty Images

The partial shutdown order was approved later Friday by Parliament's 21-member Epidemic Committee.

The new Omicron variant "spreads at lightning speed. It would be irresponsible not to recommend new restrictions," said Soeren Brostroem, head of the Danish Health Authority.

Lars Sandahl Sorensen, head of the Confederation of Danish Industry, representing approximately 18,000 companies, said the move "was not on anyone's wish list. Not at all. It will unfortunately be a sad Christmas for many."

Denmark currently requires face masks on public transportation and in shops. The government wants to extend the mask mandate to include educational institutions and places of worship.

Following the government's announcement, the royal palace said some of the planned January celebrations to mark the 50th jubilee of Denmark's popular monarch, Queen Margrethe, would be postponed.

They include a mid-month ride through Copenhagen in a horse-drawn carriage and a series of events attended by Denmark's royal family, Danish officials and foreign guests, both in the capital and around the country.

The queen plans to try to lay a wreath on her parents' grave as planned on January 14—50 years after the death of her father King Frederik IX—and to meet with the Danish government and officials, the palace said.

Last year, Denmark was one of the first European countries to close schools because of the pandemic, and the government sent home all public employees without critical functions. The government also barred gatherings of more than 100 people.

In September, the government said the outbreak no longer was to be considered "a socially critical disease," citing the high rate of vaccination.

According to the latest figures, 80 percent of people over age 5 in Denmark have received two shots, while 84 percent have been given the first jab.

In Finland, the Institute for Health and Welfare on Friday reintroduced a recommendation for people to use face masks in public spaces, including on public transportation. It came into force Friday and applies to everyone 12 and older.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Denmark COVID Restrictions
Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen announced new COVID-fighting measures, most of which will take effect early Sunday, six days before Christmas. Above, Frederiksen addresses a press conference on the reintroduction of the health pass due to the sharp rise of COVID-19 infections at the Mirror Hall in the Prime Minister's Office at Christiansborg in Copenhagen on November 8, 2021. Olafur Steinar Gestsson/Ritzau Scanpix/AFP via Getty Images