Foreigners in Denmark uneasy at ‘too early’ reopening

Many foreigners living in Denmark seem uncomfortable at the government's decision to open kindergartens and schools for the youngest children from next week.

Foreigners in Denmark uneasy at 'too early' reopening
Many foreign parents worried that children do not understand social distancing. Photo: Thomas Lekfeldt/Ritzau Scanpix
We contacted foreigners on the Expats in Copenhagen Facebook page, and also through a form posted on The Local — you can scroll to the bottom to respond yourself — to ask how they felt about Denmark's decision to start lifting some of its restrictions. 
Worried responses far outnumbered those from foreigners who supported the decision. 
Many feared the the decision had come too soon, and risked causing the virus to start spreading rapidly again, infecting both their children, and others in society.
Some had signed the petition, “My child is not a covid-19 guinea-pig“, which has received more than 11,500 signatures in less than 24 hours since it was set up. 
“I think it’s a terrible decision that hasn’t been thought through whatsoever,” protested Minty Jayne Edmondson-Bennett, who runs a bespoke nursery service. “It’s surprising that university students with the strongest immunity and no children relying on them at home aren’t the test case.” 
“It seems way too soon and dangerous,” agreed Leila Mae Wein, an American patent lawyer. “I  wish there was a better way to slowly restart the economy. Unfortunately those babies will be at risk, as well as their families and teachers.” 
“A little too soon,” agreed Linda Ama Sena Torkpo. “I’ll keep my son home for all of April. I’m not comfortable with letting him go to kindergarten yet.” 
Eric Leavitt, an American IT security manager, said that he and his Danish wife were “very angry” at the decision, especially as they have been zealously following social distancing recommendations. 
“We are worried that the system is not prepared and that the kids may become infected and get sick themselves or bring it home to us,” he said.
“We are worried that parents and those dropping kids off that will be the main facilitator of a possible spike in virus cases due to people’s inability to refrain from close contact. We worry for the teachers and those watching and teaching our kids. I would be very fearful if I was in their shoes.” 
He accused Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen and her government of sending children out to be “guinea pigs” and “lab rats”. 
One teacher, who declined to be named when she answered The Local's survey, said she was scared that she herself would become sick, and also worried about sending her daughter to kindergarten. 
“She is very young and does not understand fully why she can’t hug her classmates or why she should not sneeze in my face. I am petrified of getting sick and of my daughter and family getting sick,” she said.
Another respondent to the survey said: “The virus doesn't show symptoms in young children and it is extremely dangerous to reopen schools and kindergartens since they can easily infect their parents and other members of the family.”
“I just hope the hospitals have enough beds and ventilators, and medical staff have enough protective equipment and the system is prepared to deal with the new cases after reopening,” said Shweta, a housewife. 
But others said that they understood why the government had felt the need to relax the tough restrictions, which have come at a heavy economic cost. 
Simone, an Italian telecoms engineer, said he hoped “for this to be the first step towards reopening society for real”.
“The long term solution cannot be a never-ending lockdown,” he said. “At some point we will also need to travel back home.”
Sagar Sapkota pointed out that the children who will return to school next week fall “under very low risk group for covid-19”, making the decision to start with them “a good step”, although he worried that if grandparents drop off and pick up children they would risk being exposed. 
Susan Churchwell, who runs the Susie Sugar Cakes shop in Slagelse, said that she trusted that the government knew what it was doing “on a population level”. 
“They have access to the experts and data that we don’t,” she said. “Parents who have no option need childcare in order to work, otherwise the economy will collapse. I also trust that, if cases of covid-19 start spiralling, the schools will be closed again. People forget the whole point of the closures in the first place wasn't to stop people getting sick, merely to delay it so the health service wasn't overwhelmed.” 
One mum, who didn't want to be named and whose toddler son had only been due to start kindergarten on April 14 even before the crisis, said that it would be emotionally difficult. 
“It’s such a hard decision but if you want to open up the community then I actually think that this is the right first step,” she said. “I am very scared that he will get sick but I am also aware that the small kids seem to be at the lowest risk. It’s just hard when it’s your own little child. I will carefully follow my gut on how things go and if I’m not happy then maybe I’ll take him out for a bit.” 
Many international parents said they were still waiting for what guidelines and procedures kindergartens and schools would put in place. 
“I think the announcement should have come with specific helpful advice on how to tackle it in an orderly and safe way,” said Nerrisa Rose Weis. “Perhaps, they could have limited the number of children, split by time and days.” 
She also said that additional staff would be needed to keep school and kindergartens clean and enforce social distancing. 
Belinda Bai said she had been reassured when Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said that toys would be washed twice a day at kindergartens, but questioned whether there would be sufficient resources. She also doubted whether toddlers and small children would be able to manage social distancing. 
“It seems to me difficult for the small ones to keep distance from each other. Society requires police to monitor the adults…” 
The number of parents picking up at any one time should be limited to ten, matching the ban on gatherings of more than ten people, she said.  “There are so many unknown details which create confusion and worry. 
Many of those expressing concern said they had otherwise been pleased with the way the government had handled the crisis so far. 
Shweta, the housewife, said the government had done “a commendable job until now”. But said she felt the announcement had already led to people dropping their guard.  “People have become way too casual. In Billund the supermarkets seem to be full of people during peak hours, since last weekend. I went for a walk near a lake on the outskirts of Grindsted and noticed too many people hanging out in groups.” 
“Up until this decision, it has been handled well,” said the teacher. “In theory, this sounds at least somewhat logical but in reality, it will be so difficult.” 
Another respondent to The Local's questionnaire said its handling had been “extraordinary”: “Being decisive and [showing a] fast response to lockdown and other protective measures. Buying precious time for the citizen.” 
“The Danish government has handled the situation in an excellent way, ” said a third respondent. “But with this plan of reopening soon they are likely going to damage the health of people living in Denmark.” 

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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.”