Back in March when coronavirus hit Europe, I was an intern at the Danish Embassy in Buenos Aires. Argentina was still free of the virus; and the city was quietly waiting for the storm to come. Given the strong ties that Latin America has with Spain and Italy, we all knew it would be a matter of days.
At the embassy we started holding what we called ‘coronameetings’ daily. Our deputy head of mission would start by introducing the new rules that had Copenhagen sent. It felt very strange that, in a country where the danger still felt very distant, suddenly we were no longer allowed to have lunch together and only two people could go out and buy lunch for the embassy.
A small country with a population of only 5.5 million, Denmark was quite proactive on its response. The government didn’t hesitate to close schools, universities and offices and impose a ban on large gatherings. The toughest measure was the immediate closure of all borders, which followed with a message on March 13 to all Danish travellers abroad saying: ‘Come home.’
That Friday, the phone at the embassy did not stop ringing for a minute. While the message from our government was clear, people were looking for a comforting and familiar voice in a foreign land. At some point I was so stressed that I admitted to a young couple on an exchange: ‘I really don’t know what you should do’. Later I got to know they actually appreciated an honest answer.
Back in Denmark, the strict border closures meant that social distancing trumped the comfort of a foreign partner during the pandemic. One in every seven Danes is married to a foreigner – and the number is likely to be higher for couples who have yet to tie the knot. I don’t see this as a problem – I myself have a boyfriend from Hong Kong.
Under the government regulations, Danes with a foreign partner who were not resident in Denmark and did not have a ‘worthy purpose’ to return could forget the idea of reuniting with their partners any time soon. The border control was so strict that an American was refused entry to Denmark even though his Danish fiancée was ill with terminal cancer. The authorities told him that he would be able to enter Denmark for her funeral.
I know that at a macro level, not being with your partner seems a rather insignificant problem compared to everything else that is happening, but at a micro level the support and love of a partner can make a pandemic more bearable.
As this issue was not being addressed by parliament, members of a Facebook group for partners separated by the border closure decided to take action. To my surprise, it had 1500 members. They reached out to media platforms, emailed members of parliament and even organized a protest in early June. Eventually, these efforts paid off: since June 27 foreign partners of a Danish national have been allowed to enter Denmark, including non-EU citizens. This requires a signed form by the Danish partner declaring that the couple has been in a meaningful relationship with physical contact for over three months and a negative COVID-19 test. If I take something positive from this pandemic, I’d point to the way it has united groups of strangers in small acts of solidarity.