Danish U-turn: children with sick relatives should stay home

Children who live with someone ill with coronavirus-like symptoms should not attend kindergarten or school, Denmark's health minister has announced, responding to widespread concern surrounding the reopening of the country's schools.

Danish U-turn: children with sick relatives should stay home
Parents have been worried about the reopening. Photo: Liselotte Sabroe/Ritzau Scanpix
Magnus Heunicke announced the new policy in a press release sent out on Sunday, following widespread criticism of the guidance from the Danish Health Authority (Sundhetsstyrelsen) that having sick relatives at home should not prevent children returning when schools reopen this week. 

“Many have been unsure whether the right measures have been taken when schools and daycare services open up again on Wednesday,” Heunicke said in the press release. 
“In particular there have been questions over whether children should attend kindergarten or school if someone is infected with Covid-19 at home. This uncertainty is now being taken away by the government.” 
Municipal governments in Aalborg, Aarhus and Odense, among others, had already responded to public unease about children bringing the infection from home by saying they would defy the health authority and allow the families of children who have sick people at home to keep them home. 

The Danish government's decision to overrule its own health authority sees the country's policy diverge from that of neighbouring Sweden, where the advice to parents is that children should be sent to school even if someone at home is ill. 
Heunicke said that the decision had followed a reappraisal of how likely it is that children will be able to follow hygiene requirements. 
“There are a number of strict requirements for cleaning, hygiene and self-insulation when there is a coronavirus infection at home. This can be really difficult for families with smaller children, and we understand that there are many who are unsure about this situation,” he said.  
“Therefore, in the government, we have decided, on a precautionary principle, that children living in a household with a person who has coronavirus should not attend school or daycare.” 
This decision applies only to children, and not to adult staff who work in schools or kindergartens, as the ministry believes adult staff will be better able to follow sanitary guidelines.  
According to a survey by Local Government Denmark, which represents the country's municipalities, over half of Denmark's municipalities plan to reopen schools and kindergartens on Wednesday, with the rest following no later than Monday. 

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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.”