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Face masks mandatory in public transport

Press meeting main point: from 22 August on all public transport in all of Denmark.

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By Bente D. Knudsen

Danish Prime Minister, Mette Frederiksen, opened the press meeting this morning by saying that the development seen the past couple of weeks with rise in spread locally (Aarhus, Ringsted and Silkeborg), but also countrywide, needs action and she was very pleased that all the political parties in the Danish Parliament stand behind the measures she was about to announce.

First of all she said that the use of face masks (covering nose and mouth) will be a new measure used in all of Denmark on all public transport, this means bus, train, metro, ferry boat and on the plane as well as on all train, metro, ferry and bus stations.

The new measure is being put in place as the Danish society becomes more and more active after the summer holiday with more people going to work or school, therefore the Danish Government will do everything it can in order to keep the society open and avoid a new general shutdown.

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She also said that the development in spread with local clusters was expected and that it is part of the “dance with the virus”, however, as the society opens, more the use of facemasks in public transport is just an added measure on top of the super weapon which worked so well in the spring; social distancing, no kisses and hugs apart from the family members you live with, high hand hygiene with the use of hand disinfectant and/or frequent water and soap and staying at home if you have any symptoms.

The new measure with facemasks in public transport can be the disposable ones, they can be made of cloth/fabric or they can be the large plastic screens, in Danish the name is visir.

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Facemasks are mandatory for all travelers above the age of 12 and the transport companies have been given the mandate to enforce the measure just as they do with valid tickets.

This means that the transport sector may now ask passengers who are not wearing one of the above appropriate facemasks and who do not have a valid reason not to (if you have respiratory problems you are for instance exempt) to leave the station, train, bus, taxi, ferry or plane.

The measure will be applicable starting on 22 August in order to give everyone the opportunity to acquire a facemask to use.

The Danish retail sector will be responsible for supplying masks and it is expected that with the increased use and demand for them price will go down as supply goes up.

Questioned as to why the Danish Government and health authorities had “changed their minds” concerning facemasks, which are already widely used in the rest of Europe (there were quite a few questions regarding this asked from the media present) the answers were:

“During the shutdown the activity level in Denmark went down and the measures we imposed had their effect as the spread of the virus went down, the present situation is different as we want to keep the society open. We now have the means of doing so with the testing capacity in place enabling us to find and isolate those infected.

Facemasks become one more tool in our toolbox which makes sense in places such as public transport where distancing cannot be maintained,” was the reply from the Danish Prime Minister.

From the Danish health sector, Søren Brostrøm from Sundhedsstyrelsen said that the use of facemasks as one more measure on top of the others was something they had decided to support as there is more widespread evidence that it works in areas were distance cannot be maintained even if there does not exist a perfect scientific study to document their efficiency.

“Our main concern regarding recommending the use of facemasks was that the use of them would give a false sense of security and that an incorrect use could be damaging, however, we have become wiser and have more knowledge from the experience with the use of facemasks in other countries.

They show that if everyone is using a facemask in a given situation then people do remember the most important measures of distancing and hand hygiene.

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The facemask serves as a reminder of these important measures which shows that they can make sense to use also in our society.

If facemasks are are not used correctly, they are not as efficient, however, if everyone uses them in a given situation and most do so correctly, than using facemasks is better than not using them at all,” Søren Brostrøm said at the press meeting.

How long will the facemask measure be in place and will the use be extended to other areas such as the retail sector?

“We have not decided for how long the measure will be in place nor are we saying no to extending it to other areas where distancing can be difficult, it will all depend upon how the virus spreads within the society as the society opens more and as the weather gets colder and we stay indoors more,” Mette Frederiksen answered.

Important to note is that the Danish Government puts an emphasis on the containment of spread with the use of local and regional measures, the Danish Prime Minister said that with the testing capacity in place, a capacity which enables the authorities to find and isolate those infected it will be possible to put in place regional and local measures that may be different or more severe than those in place countrywide.

Denmark’s testing capacity is amongst the highest in Europe measured per capita and yesterday Mette Frederisken informed  34,117 residents were tested of which 104 were tested positive.

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Ensuring a high-test capacity is key in keeping the virus from spreading uncontrolled until a vaccine has been found.

“We will have to learn to live with the virus in our society for at least a couple of years until a vaccine has been found and made available,” Mette Frederiksen underlined during the meeting.