Juggling coronavirus and economy, Denmark readies to ease lockdown

* Denmark would be first non-Asian country to relax curbs

* Number of cases stabilising

* Country seeks to balance economy and public safety

* Authorities appear confident of stopping second outbreak

* Many question whether that stance is well-founded

COPENHAGEN, April 3 (Reuters) - Denmark is expected this weekend to reveal plans to relax its coronavirus lockdown, becoming the first country outside Asia to do so, reasoning that the risks of a deep recession may now be more dangerous for Danish society than a second outbreak.

The Nordic country was one of the first in Europe to shut down, and with the number of coronavirus cases stabilizing it is now facing tough decisions on reopening that many other governments around the world have lying ahead of them.

The Danish government on March 11 ordered the closure of schools, day cares, restaurants, cafes and gyms, and shut all borders to most foreigners.

On Monday, the government said it would start gradually lifting its lockdown after Easter if the numbers of cases and deaths remained stable, apparently confident it can guard its population against a second outbreak.

Frederiksen said she hoped to be able to present a plan for the first phase of a reopening by the end of this week after consultation with the other parties in government.

But many Danes question whether the government’s confidence is well-founded.

Qasim Khan, co-owner and head chef at a small Latin American restaurant in central Copenhagen, applauds the government’s quick decision to shut down the country, but worries that a reopening after Easter would be too early and could actually delay a return to normal.

“You risk that our three weeks of very tough quarantine ends being worth nothing ... I don’t see a reason for opening up and then risk having to shut down again,” he told Reuters.

In considering whether to ease the restrictions, the government is trying to balance the need to keep its population safe and the economic risks of a deep recession.


“The situation we are in is far more complicated than appreciating human life,” the country’s prime minister Mette Frederiksen said on Monday.

“We cannot open a textbook - neither on healthcare nor economy - and find the right answer,” she said, adding: “The math is too simple.”

Denmark, which has imposed less strict limits on daily life than in Italy or France, had reported 139 coronavirus-related deaths as of Friday, with the number of patients hospitalized falling this week.

“What we’ve done so far is very sensible, but I would have liked to see a development over a longer period before I dared to say that the curve is broken,” said Hans Jorn Kolmos, professor in clinical microbiology at the University of Southern Denmark.

Frederiksen acknowledged on Monday that “the strategy we follow is a political choice.”

Restaurant owner Khan, with the help of his pregnant girlfriend and two remaining staff, is still keeping his kitchen open for take-away orders.

“Is it really worth risking getting ill versus shutting down the place? That has been the toughest decision,” Khan said.

Additional reporting by Andreas Mortensen; writing by Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen, Editing by William Maclean