Danish distillery switches from whisky to medical alcohol to fight coronavirus

A distillery in Denmark is switching from producing whisky, gin and rum to churning out near pure alcohol for making emergency supplies of alcohol gel hand sanitiser.

Danish distillery switches from whisky to medical alcohol to fight coronavirus
Some of the beautiful brass equipment now being used to make medical alcohol. Photo: Nyborg Distillery
Danish authorities are pushing companies across the country to find ways of making hand sanitiser and protective equipment for doctors and nurses, as a global shortage threatens to cripple hospitals as they prepare to treat a wave of coronavirus cases. 
Tørk Eskild Furhauge, chief executive of Naturfrisk Group, told Danish state broadcaster DR that he had quickly realised the role his company's Nyborg Distillery, on the Danish island of Funen, could play. 
“We have a very special distillery. It is perhaps the only one in Denmark that can produce 90 percent alcohol in sufficient quantities that, I believe, we have a duty to offer it up if the authorities are looking for alcohol.”  
Breweries from across Denmark have offered beer and cider for the project, with Carlsberg donating 17,200 litres of Somersby cider. 
Some 8,000 litres of beer from the local Ørbæk brewery has already been turned into 8,000 litres of 90 percent alcohol at the distillery, with the alcohol then sent to a factory in Billund operated by Gundal, where it was turned into hand sanitiser. 
The 8,000 litres is roughly enough, Furhauge said, to supply a single major hospital for 24 hours. 
He said he hoped the distillery will continue producing alcohol at a rate of about 2,000 litres a day until the coronavirus crisis is over. 
Naturfrisk is not the only international drinks manufacturer repurposing distilleries. The French drinks giant Pernod Ricard last week converted several US distilleries to make hand sanitiser, winning them the approval of US President Donald Trump

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IN NUMBERS: Has the Omicron Covid-19 wave peaked in Denmark?

The number of new Covid-19 infections fell on Saturday for the second day in a row, following a three-day plateau at the start of last week. Has the omicron wave peaked?

IN NUMBERS: Has the Omicron Covid-19 wave peaked in Denmark?
Graffiti in the Copenhagen hippy enclave of Christiania complaining of Omicron's impact on Christmas. Photo: Philip Davali/Scanpix

How many cases, hospitalisations and deaths are there in Denmark? 

Denmark registered 12,588 new cases in the 24 hours leading up to 2pm on Saturday, down from the 18,261 registered on in the day leading up to Friday at 2pm, which was itself a decline from the record 28,283 cases recorded on Wednesday. 

The cases were identified by a total of 174,517 PCR tests, bringing the positive percentage to 7.21 percent, down from the sky high rates of close to 12 percent seen in the first few days of January. 

The number of cases over the past seven days is lower than the week before in almost every municipality in Denmark, with only Vallensbæk, Aarhus, Holseterbro, Skanderborg, Hjørring, Vordingborg,  Ringkøbing, Kolding, Assens, Horsens, Thisted, and Langeland reporting rises. 

Hospitalisations have also started to fall, with some 730 patients being treated for Covid-10 on Saturday, down from 755 on Friday. On Tuesday, 794 were being treated for Covid-19 in Danish hospitals, the highest number since the peak of the 2020-21 winter wave.

The only marker which has not yet started to fall is the number of deaths, which tends to trail infections and hospitalisations. 

In the 24 hours leading up to 2pm on Saturday, Denmark registered 28 deaths with Covid-19, the highest daily number recorded since 20 January 2021, when 29 people died with Covid-19 (although Denmark’s deadliest day was the 19 January 2021, when 39 people died). 

How does Denmark compare to other countries in Europe? 

Over the last seven days, Denmark has had the highest Covid-19 case rate of any country in Europe bar Ireland. The number of new infections in the country has climbed steadily since the start of December, apart from a brief fall over Christmas. 

So does this mean the omicron wave has peaked? 

Maybe, although experts are not sure. 

“Of course, you can hope for that, but I’m not sure that is the case,” said Christian Wejse, head of the Department for Infectious Diseases at Aarhus University Hospital. “I think it is too early to conclude that the epidemic has peaked.”

He said that patients with the Omicron variant were being discharged more rapidly on average than had been the case with those who had the more dangerous Delta variant. 

“Many admissions are relatively short-lived, thankfully. This is because many do not become that il, and are largely hospitalized because they are suffering with something else. And if they are stable and do not need oxygen, then they are quickly discharged again.” 

Denmark’s Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said during a visit to an event held by the Social Liberal party that the latest numbers made her even more optimistic about the coming month. 

“We have lower infection numbers and the number of hospitalisations is also plateauing,” she said. “I think we’re going to get through this winter pretty well, even if it will be a difficult time for a lot of people, and we are beginning to see the spring ahead of us, so I’m actually very optimistic.” 

She said that she had been encouraged by the fact that Omicron was a “visibly less dangerous variant if it is not allowed to explode.”