Bay of Plenty Times
Nothing rotten in the state of Denmark, Covid-19 is officially ‘over’
In the winter, we’re going to have a major epidemic in schools. That’s not generally accepted, but the evidence is pretty clear, particularly in primary schools. Viggo Andreasen
No wonder many Brits are still anxious about Covid. More than 41,000 positive tests were reported in the UK on Monday. There has been talk of a “firebreak” at half term, a partial lockdown, perhaps. Schools are operating with twice-weekly testing, air-con and hand gel stations. The debate over who to vaccinate next rages fiercely: should it be a booster jab for the elderly or do we want 12 to 15 year olds to line up? Meanwhile, the University of Cambridge is estimating only 30 per cent of the population has been infected so far. It’s worrying stuff.
Well, worrying for you, but over here in Denmark, just a few hundred kilometres away, we’re not so troubled.
In fact, for Danes, Covid-19 is officially over, done and dusted, thanks.
Today, the country will lift all its last Covid restrictions after the Government declared the virus “no longer a critical threat to society”, thanks to having vaccinated 72 per cent of the population (the UK is at 62 per cent). “The epidemic is under control,” the health minister, Magnus Heunicke, announced last week.
Denmark, which, on March 11, 2020, was the first country in northern Europe to bring in lockdown restrictions, is now becoming the trailblazer in removing them.
And in doing so, the land of Lego could be teaching the rest of the world how to rebuild normality.
They are not claiming to have vanquished the disease, just to having found a way to live with it.
Their shift back to pre-pandemic life has been in the works for some months, with Denmark’s government arguing that with about 95 per cent of vulnerable people, care home residents, and citizens over the age of 60 fully vaccinated, the country could tolerate higher infection rates.
At a Covid-19 update last month, the prime minister, Mette Frederiksen, declared the vaccine “the super-weapon to beat them all”.
At the end of August, the Danish government announced plans to scale back its testing infrastructure, with all rapid test sites to close by the end of September. It recently scrapped its one-metre rule, meaning there is no longer a need to keep seats empty in churches and cinemas.
From Tuesday, school and daycare children will no longer even be automatically sent home if a classmate or teacher gets Covid-19. And as of this month, people sitting in bars and restaurants no longer need to be able to show a valid Covid-19 pass (called a coronapas), 2am closing times have been lifted, and music festivals are allowed. Even nightclubs have reopened. All this, despite the weekly numbers testing positive rising fivefold on the lows at the end of June.
Despite the case rates, Denmark is registering only a few more than 10 Covid-19 deaths a week, down from the more than 200 cases in January.
Not that there is complacency in Copenhagen. Heunicke is warning of a risk of “an epidemic of the nonvaccinated”.
Among 15 to 18 year olds, just 43.5 per cent are fully jabbed; those in their 20s are also lagging behind.
“In the winter, we’re going to have a major epidemic in schools,” says Viggo Andreasen, associate professor at Roskilde University.
“That’s not generally accepted, but the evidence is pretty clear, particularly in primary schools.”
He estimates that about half of those who have yet to be vaccinated will be immune through infection within six months.
But while in the UK the return to school has been filled with anxious calls for more masks, ventilation, testing, and isolation, in Denmark the pressure on the Government is in the other direction.
The centre-right Moderate Party opposition, together with two other smaller parties, last week called for children who have come into close contact with a person with Covid-19 to no longer have to self-isolate at home.
Currently, teachers, and pupils between the ages of 12 and 16, are encouraged, but not required, to get tested every 72 hours by rapid test or every 96 hours by PCR, while there is no advice for secondary students. However, the guidelines are due to end by the end of this month and may be removed even earlier.
Not everyone is happy with the change in approach. Danes have a high level of trust in national experts, but for many ex-pats living in the country, the switch from a cautious response in the first and second wave, to a gung-ho strategy is alarming.
“Looking at hospitalisations and kids in hospitals internationally, it’s worrisome to me,” says Jonathan Bauer, an American who teaches English and art at a secondary school in Jutland, and whose wife is in a specially vulnerable group.
Future generations are at risk, complains an American woman living in Copenhagen, who is concerned about long Covid. “It seems unethical to say it’s okay for all of these young kids to get Covid-19 as their way of building immunity, and know that that runs the risk they may have permanent cognitive deficits.”
Unlike almost all Danes, her family wears the highest grade of mask when they shop or are in crowded indoor spaces.
At the Warpigs pub, in the trendy Meatpacking District, manager Mads Snedevind says Covid passes were useful when Denmark was the first to introduce them six months ago.
“They kind of made everything seem normal,” he says. “When you were sitting inside you knew everyone was safe, but because you weren’t constantly seeing people in masks you could feel more normality.”
At Jolene, one of Copenhagen’s wildest nightclubs, which has just reopened, owner Kristian Gøtrik says, “The coronapas is a way of pushing people to the vaccine. It was such a hassle to go and get tested that you had to get vaccinated.”
Not all Danes are convinced the country has its Covid strategy right.
“The Danish strategy is putting adult, unvaccinated individuals at serious risk,” says Andreasen.
Letting the virus run free in schools could bring unexpected dangers, he adds, which is why he believes pupils who have close contacts with infected people should continue to be isolated and tested.
Back at the Meatpacking District, too, Mads Snedevind is nervous.
“I’m a bit scared all the 20-yearolds are going to kind of go nuts in the clubs and ruin it for all of us.” Telegraph Group Ltd