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This might happen in multiple countries, but I keep the question focused by considering Denmark's case.

Denmark removed all restrictions in September and was considering adding some restrictions at the beginning of November.

I am wondering why not keep minimum restrictions, such as wearing masks in crowded spaces (e.g. public transportation).

Dropping "corona passports" and wearing masks everywhere restrictions for a lower number of reported cases can be explained by their relatively high cost (e.g. political cost, slowing down of businesses that require extra checks).

However, COVID isn't going anywhere any time soon and wearing a face mask is still recommended despite relatively high vaccination rates.

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  • The default is always to do nothing. It typically requires a lot more effort and justification to do something than to not do something. The measures you talk about may not have a major effect - face masks in public transport aren't significant in areas where most people drive, vaccine passports have no effect if most people are vaccinated, etc. You could make this question more specific.
    – Stuart F
    Nov 25, 2021 at 18:48
  • @StuartF They actually did something. They no longer required masks being worn in public transportation, as an example. Loosening the restrictions meant changes and they made sense. My question is about why remove all the restrictions when it is clear that the danger is far from being gone.
    – Alexei
    Nov 25, 2021 at 18:53
  • If you want an answer you'll need to explain what particular rule you're interested in and where, and then we can consider if it's justified and look at the reasons they provided. But it would be very odd for a government to keep restrictions in place, renew emergency legislation and budgets, or keep paying for things if they didn't see a need; while it would be more natural to stop paying even if they weren't sure if there was a need or hoped there wouldn't be a need.
    – Stuart F
    Nov 25, 2021 at 19:03

2 Answers 2

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It's hard to really know why a given government takes decisions to loosen covid restrictions (they do tend to justify themselves exhaustively when they tighten restrictions).

Part of it is that there is, in democratic countries, an ongoing tension between disease control and political cost, especially whenever a given country/jurisdiction has a sizable proportion of voters opposing restrictions.

A government can choose to:

  • do nothing much and stick to doing nothing much (South Dakota)
  • be aggressive in limiting covid from the start (New Zealand)
  • initially do little and then apply restrictions when things get out of hand (most of the others)

Especially in the third case, when there is a government intervention, it is often presented as a temporary, exceptional, measure to limit political costs.

Conversely, whenever the situation improves sufficiently at the moment, governments can feel pressure to lift those temporary restrictions.

Masks are somewhat vulnerable to this pressure as they are a direct imposition on individuals and are not, from the point of any given individual, that efficient at protecting that individual. Mask mandates are efficient at lowering overall R0 however.

In political terms, this boom and bust approach is not all that different from the way governments used to alternate loose and tight monetary policy. Loosening up tends to be a vote winner until the economy overheats and there is a problem requiring tightening the belt. This was known to cause problems but still happened time and again.

Most Western countries have learned, over time, to uncouple politicians from driving monetary policy and instead rely on nominally independent central banks.

This is not to say that we should emulate the central bank approach, only to note that this type of stop and go policy making can be expected of government response to cyclical issues, at least until they and the voters settle on how to address these problems.

Governments right now seem to spend a lot of time looking at what others are doing with covid and assessing medical outcomes and political costs of other countries' policies.
For example, after Macron came up with the not-mandatory-but-very-inconvenient-to-skip vaccine policy in July, a number of countries quickly followed suit in limiting access to public areas for unvaccinated people. Now that Austria is making vaccines mandatory, Germany is apparently thinking about it.

Likewise, expect governments to watch decisions to either maintain or do away with low-cost restrictions like masks. British Columbia, where I live, had a mask mandate late June, then dropped it until Delta made it necessary again in late August. I am not sure where voters stand on having dropped mask requirements but they certainly did not appreciate the partial lockdown we endured later on. Expect that authorities will probably think things over thoroughly before dropping that mask mandate one more time.

Covid will probably require extensive juggling of these medical vs economic vs political costs at least until it becomes a more easily treatable disease (better, proven, therapies) or until enough people are vaccinated which by now looks to require almost measles levels of vaccination (95%). These calculations are also affected by changing levels of resistance/approval towards restrictions in each electorate.

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You are basically answering it yourself. COVID-19 is here to stay. The restrictions are not, almost everyone is seeing them as a temporary thing. As long as the healthcare system can cope with the flu, the cold, COVID-19 and other illnesses there is no need for any restrictions.

Update

Quotes from Jens Lundgren, Professor of Viral Diseases, Copenhagen University Hospital

Denmark is lifting the restrictions because the vaccine rollout has been very successful

As a consequence, we have the pandemic under control in this country and can therefore handle whatever remaining of those who still get infected within the frameworks of our hospital system.

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  • Comments deleted. Please remember that Politics Stack Exchange is not a discussion forum. Only use comments for the purposes listed on the help center article.
    – Philipp
    Nov 23, 2021 at 7:58
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    COVID-19 is here to stay... because of countries not having restrictions and people not following restrictions. So this answer is circular.
    – user253751
    Nov 23, 2021 at 11:46
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    Still circular. The reason it will become endemic is because of countries not having restrictions and people not following restrictions
    – user253751
    Nov 23, 2021 at 12:28
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    It's like saying we should pollute as much as we want because climate change is happening anyway.
    – user253751
    Nov 23, 2021 at 12:51
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    "The reason it will become endemic is because of countries not having restrictions and people not following restrictions " complete and utter nonsense. That's not how highly contagious respiratory viruses work, and it's already endemic. It's never going away, thinking you can stamp it out with restrictions is fantasy.
    – eps
    Nov 24, 2021 at 14:49

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