Magnus Heunicke announced the new policy in a press release sent out on Sunday, following widespread criticism of the guidance from the Danish Health Authority (Sundhetsstyrelsen) that having sick relatives at home should not prevent children returning when schools reopen this week.
“Many have been unsure whether the right measures have been taken when schools and daycare services open up again on Wednesday,” Heunicke said in the press release.
“In particular there have been questions over whether children should attend kindergarten or school if someone is infected with Covid-19 at home. This uncertainty is now being taken away by the government.”
Municipal governments in Aalborg, Aarhus and Odense, among others, had already responded to public unease about children bringing the infection from home by saying they would defy the health authority and allow the families of children who have sick people at home to keep them home.
The Danish government’s decision to overrule its own health authority sees the country’s policy diverge from that of neighbouring Sweden, where the advice to parents is that children should be sent to school even if someone at home is ill.
Heunicke said that the decision had followed a reappraisal of how likely it is that children will be able to follow hygiene requirements.
“There are a number of strict requirements for cleaning, hygiene and self-insulation when there is a coronavirus infection at home. This can be really difficult for families with smaller children, and we understand that there are many who are unsure about this situation,” he said.
“Therefore, in the government, we have decided, on a precautionary principle, that children living in a household with a person who has coronavirus should not attend school or daycare.”
This decision applies only to children, and not to adult staff who work in schools or kindergartens, as the ministry believes adult staff will be better able to follow sanitary guidelines.
According to a survey by Local Government Denmark, which represents the country’s municipalities, over half of Denmark’s municipalities plan to reopen schools and kindergartens on Wednesday, with the rest following no later than Monday.