A real classroom. Filled with children and a teacher; it is a universally understood sign of normality. But at the moment there is only one European country where children leave the house with a backpack in the morning. In Denmark, primary schools and nurseries reopened in the week after Easter, a month after that the government had shut down public life in the Scandinavian country because of the corona virus.
A return to normal school life in these Covid-19 times is a remarkable step and medically not without risks. Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen indirectly emphasized this when she compared the step-by-step resuscitation of society with tightrope walking. Circus artists die when they fall from the tightrope, sometimes they pay with death.
“It’s important not to leave Denmark locked for longer than necessary,” said Frederiksen when announcing the new policy. In addition to schools, driving schools are now also allowed to offer their services again, as have physiotherapists, hairdressers and tattooists – professions that require a degree of physical proximity that is not compatible with the principle of social distancing also applicable in Denmark. The Danes do it anyway, mainly out of concern for the economy.
Frederiksen and her ministers listened to an advisory committee of four leading economists. “You are dramatically less efficient when you teach and care for your children at home,” said Carl-Johan Dalsgaard of the University of Copenhagen, one of the four.
In addition, the government, in consultation with schools and companies, has drawn up strict and above all detailed rules to steer the opening in the right direction.
Strict requirements at school
Parents are no longer allowed to enter the school yard, where tape or sidewalk chalk indicates where the children should queue in the morning, at least two meters apart. If possible, not everyone enters through the main entrance to avoid crowding. Also in the classroom, two meters is the minimum distance to be maintained. At daycare centers, children should only play in a fixed group of no more than four children.
The children should wash their hands every two hours. Tables, chairs and toys must be disinfected twice a day. Masters and teachers do not give hugs and teddy bears do not either – they are also prohibited, because they are difficult to disinfect.
These rules mean that not all students can be in school at the same time. Some schools therefore offer a morning and an afternoon shift. At nurseries, children are only welcome a few days a week.
School is not compulsory
And, the main difference with the pre-corona era: school is not mandatory. According to a study by the Association of Danish Municipalities, about half of the students were in the classroom in the first week. Despite volunteering, some 40,000 Danish parents have joined the Facebook platform “I don’t want my child to serve as a Covid-19 guinea pig.”
But the vast majority of the population, 80 percent, broadly support Frederiksen’s policy, according to a poll commissioned by public broadcaster DR – a crisis bonus even more widespread than in most other countries.
This is probably due to the above-average confidence in authority and institutions in Denmark – a quality that the country has traditionally been proud of.