Ireland’s not Ireland without its social life. Why don’t we copy Denmark and get it back?

Show your antigen test and you’re in: this is how Irish bars and restaurants could reopen indoors

Coronapas: Denmark’s digital corona passport gets you into to bars half an hour after a negative antigen test. Photograph: Tom Little/AFP via Getty

Coronapas: Denmark’s digital corona passport gets you into to bars half an hour after a negative antigen test. Photograph: Tom Little/AFP via Getty

 

The other Friday evening I was sitting in a restaurant overlooking the main square of our town. Students sat under heaters on bar terraces, music floated out of pubs, and families walked in and out of places to eat. Mostly there were no screens, no two-metre rules, no time limits.

The town I was in – and which I’ve just left, to come back to Ireland after an eight-month secondment – was in Denmark, which over the past month has been reopening with the help of its phone-based coronapas (or corona passport) scheme, which lets you show you’ve been vaccinated or have recently tested negative for coronavirus.

These digital certificates have enabled cafes, bars and restaurants across the country – as well as cinemas, theatres, museums, hairdressers, zoos and even gyms – to open their doors again while minimising the risk of infection. Show that you’re coronavirus-free and you can go inside. (If you can’t prove you’re safe you’ll still be served, but outside.)

It may not be a return to total spontaneity, but it provides much more of it than most of us have had in a long time

You can have a PCR test under the coronapas scheme, of course, but antigen tests – the rapid-result ones that Ireland isn’t sure about – have played a key role in its success. The Danish government has opened multiple pop-up centres to provide both types of test free of charge. One was set up in the community hall of my apartment complex, offering antigen tests right outside the block I lived in, so it couldn’t have been any easier to be checked.

And with an antigen test you get your result half an hour later, by text message or through the government’s MinSundhed app. So you can decide in the morning that you’d like to go out for dinner that evening, and head down for a swab to be taken. It may not be a return to total spontaneity, but it provides much more of it than most of us have had in a long time.

The demand for testing does mean there can be long queues, particularly on a Friday morning – a test is valid in your coronapas for 72 hours, so time it right and it can allow you a weekend of socialising. But if you’re not willing to queue you can always head to the centre at off-peak times: it’s still very much worth it.

The first time I used the coronapas system, some friends and I headed to a bodega, the Danish equivalent of a traditional pub. We could take a table as soon as we showed our passes. We had to wear masks while standing up or going to the bar, and the bar couldn’t be as full as before, but otherwise it was almost like a regular Saturday night. That first feeling of some sort of return to normality was particularly lovely – and lovelier still when the barman gave out free shots every time FC Midtjylland, the local team, scored in that evening’s match.

Denmark, which has about the same population as Ireland, feels it’s so close to returning to normality that it has already decided to phase out the coronapas for everything except foreign travel – and plans to phase out face masks over the summer as well. It isn’t way ahead of other countries with its vaccine rollout. But it did decide it would test as many people as it could – and sometimes managed to test more than 10 per cent of its population in a single day.

Ireland’s not the same without its social life. Wouldn’t it be great to copy Denmark and get it back?

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