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Denmark Reopens Some Schools But Not Everyone Is Pleased


Now we got an update on Denmark, one of the first European countries to lock down. Today, Danish elementary schools and day cares begin to reopen. Sidsel Overgaard reports.

SIDSEL OVERGAARD, BYLINE: Just over a week ago, the Danish prime minister made this announcement.


PRIME MINISTER METTE FREDERIKSEN: (Non-English language spoken).

OVERGAARD: Mette Frederiksen said day care and school for kids up to age 12 would open starting on April 15. Within hours, concerned parents launched a Facebook group called My Child Will Not Be a Guinea Pig for COVID-19. That group now has about 40,000 members worried that their children will be the first to re-enter a very different world. The chairman of the more official Parents Union in Denmark, Signe Nielsen, says, personally, she's feeling secure about the situation and will be sending her kids to school this week. But she can understand the worry.

SIGNE NIELSEN: In Denmark, we closed down the community quite fast, and it was done by telling people, well, you can die of COVID, and so people got really, really scared. And I think from the reopening point, a lot of parents need more communication about how it's not so unsafe for their children to go back to school. We need to make them feel secure.

OVERGAARD: She points out that the prime minister gave little information about how schools would reopen during her announcement. Details emerged only later about extra cleanings and smaller groups of children.

While this move has caused anxiety for some, opposition parties complain it doesn't go far enough. They would have liked to see the government reopen small businesses, like hair salons or restaurants, as part of the first phase. But government officials say starting Denmark's reopening with its smallest citizens will give the economy a boost by enabling parents working at home to be more productive. As for the schools themselves, the government says they can only open when they're able to meet strict guidelines about hygiene and distancing.

According to Peter Pannula Toft with the Danish Municipality Union, half of the country's districts say they'll be ready by Wednesday.

PETER PANNULA TOFT: For example, a day care institution in Copenhagen that is in an apartment building is very different from a day care institution where you have much more space.

OVERGAARD: Whether they'll be needing that space is a big question. Pannula Toft says it all depends how many children actually show up over the next few days; only then will we know how parents have responded to a situation where, frankly, everyone is a guinea pig.

For NPR News, I'm Sidsel Overgaard in Denmark.

(SOUNDBITE OF ROCKET MINER'S "OLD GHOSTS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

After taking a semester off from college to intern with Vermont Public Radio in 1999, Sidsel was hooked. She went on to work as a reporter and producer at WNYC in New York and WAMU in Washington, DC before moving to New Mexico in 2007. As KUNM’s Conservation Beat reporter, Sidsel covered news from around the state having to do with protection of our earth, air and water. She also kept up a blog, earth air waves, filled with all the bits that can’t be crammed into the local broadcast of Morning Edition and All Things Considered. When not interviewing inspiring people (or sheep), Sidsel could be found doing underdogs with her daughters at the park.
Sidsel Overgaard