‘Is it too soon?’: Are Danes fearing an early end to coronavirus lockdown?

Everyone in Denmark wants the lockdown imposed to fight the spread of coronavirus to come to an end, but the prospect of an easing of restrictions and an opening of schools is making many uneasy, writes Emma Firth in Copenhagen.

'Is it too soon?': Are Danes fearing an early end to coronavirus lockdown?
The empty boats of the Sightseeing company 'Stromma Canal Tours Copenhagen' lie at the quay in Copenhagen Harbour during the government lockdown to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus COVID-19 i

'Is it too soon? How will social distancing be kept up?,' Emma Firth, Copenhagen, Denmark

This week came the news that everyone in lockdown looks forward to  – Denmark can start to slowly reopen.

And soon – just two days after Easter.

Its success will lie in everyone’s hands – thoroughly and frequently cleaned ones; and by continuing to follow social distancing instructions and sneezing into sleeves.

But if figures remain stable over the weekend, all children in nursery (vuggestue) and kindergarten (børnehave) and those up to the age of 12 at school (0-5 klasse) can return to their classes from Wednesday 15th April.

The aim of this, the Prime Minister said, was for parents to be able to work more effectively from home without caring for small children. 

The government is also talking to some private businesses about how employees can start to return to the workplace. Everything else, including Denmark’s borders, will remain closed until the 10th May, when they’ll be another review. 

Cheers and celebrations from parents in Denmark you might think. Not quite. Less than four weeks after the sudden, decisive and full lockdown, this news came as quite a surprise for many.

Was it too soon? How would social distancing be kept up? What if many children become ill and the infection spreads? A petition soon started, called “Mit barn skal ikke være forsøgskanin for Covid19” –  “My child will not be a Covid19 guinea pig.” It currently has over 35 thousand members.

But details of how this reopening will work are yet to be announced.

Individual municipalities and institutions are currently deciding how and when they can open safely, before informing parents of the new structure. 

The government has the backing of the health authorities in Denmark and have said the country will close down again if numbers worsen.

The empty boats of the Sightseeing company 'Stromma Canal Tours Copenhagen' lie at the quay in Copenhagen Harbour during the government lockdown to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus COVID-19 in Copenhagen, Denmark on April 8, 2020.AFP

But for now, the numbers are stable. Hospital admissions for the coronavirus are decreasing (currently 433), as are those infected patients in intensive care (currently 120). So far there have been 237 reported deaths linked to the coronavirus in Denmark, according to Statens Serum Institute; a figure that is rising but not soaring.

The number of confirmed cases of the coronavirus is 5,635 but this could be much higher due to not testing everyone. 

The government has said it will take three to four weeks to see the effects of the country’s reopening. Weeks that will be closely watched, not just by Denmark but the rest of the world.

This is an excerpt from the latest in our series 'Coronavirus around Europe' in which our journalists describe the situation in the country they are in and look ahead to what might come next.

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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.”