Denmark can open many more businesses without infections rising: SSI

Denmark can afford to reopen a wide range of businesses without risking a spike in coronavirus infections, Denmark's infectious diseases agency SSI has argued in a note prepared for the government.

Denmark can open many more businesses without infections rising: SSI
Dijana Kuburovic, owner the Frisør Grønnegade hairdresser in central Copenhagen closing her business down on March 18. Photo: Ida Guldbæk Arentsen/Ritzau Scanpix
“The simulations show that if all or half of the adult population continues to keep physical distance at the level before Easter, then we have probably already seen the maximum load on intensive beds,” the agency wrote in the note, which was made public after its contents were leaked. 
According to the agency's modelling, if those working in the so-called “liberal professions” start working more or less as normal, there is still a less than 20 percent chance that the number of hospital admissions for coronavirus above the current levels by July. 
On the back of the simulations, Morten Østergaard, the leader of the Danish Social Liberal Party, called for Denmark's government to open up more of society. 
“If, from an assessment of these liberal professions, they say 27,000 people [could return to work], I think we should as soon as possible come to a political decision to allow the small liberal professions, hairdressers etc, to open again,” he said. 
“In addition, I see that there is room for some in education — high school and after-school students and possibly the courts, to be included in this, so we should get moving quickly,” he said. 
“We should keep in mind that this is about people's lives and livelihood. These are people who are running businesses and hanging on by their fingernails.” 
“Liberale erherv” is a Danish business category which includes land surveyors, estate agents, translators, accountants, consultants, doctors, vets, dentists, psychologists, and hairdressers, among other groups. 
The first of the three graphs below shows simulations for what will happen if 'liberale erherv' businesses open while Danes keep to the same level of social distancing as seen before Easter, the second shows what might happen if they open with half the level of social distancing, and the third shows what would happen if they open with normal behaviour. 
The black line represents the most likely scenario. 
Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen on Tuesday announced that her government planned to enter negotiations with other political parties over which parts of Denmark's society and economy to open next. 
In its simulations, SSI warned that if Danes stopped practicing social distancing and returned to the behaviour seen before the lockdowns were put in place, there was a better than 30 percent chance that hospital admissions would spike into the thousands by the start of July. 
“If, on the other hand, the adult population ceases to keep physical distance, then a sharp increase in the [hospital] load is expected both in general wards and intensive care from mid-June,” the note reads.
Kåre Mølbak, director at SSI, on Wednesday refused to describe the calculations as part of “a political process”.

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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.”