Outdoor classes with gym to stay warm: Denmark’s reopened schools

With ancient gods and Danish on the lesson plan, Marie Kaas-Larsen taught her 10 fourth graders in a central Copenhagen park on Wednesday, braving the cold as part of new coronavirus protocols.

Outdoor classes with gym to stay warm: Denmark's reopened schools
Students are taught outside at Norrebro park school in Copenhagen. Photo: Thibault Savary/AFP
Denmark was the first country in Europe to reopen its schools for the youngest pupils on April 15.
In addition to practising social distancing and regular handwashing, classes must be held outdoors as much as possible to limit the spread of the virus.
“It's very different from how we usually work,” the 32-year-old teacher told AFP. “I'm not afraid that kids are not learning enough. I think that they learn a lot by having this kind of school,” she said.
Seated in a circle around her, the children, aged 10 and 11, listened eagerly to the adventures of Neptune before doing some gym exercises to keep warm.
Thibault Savary / AFP
At the Norrebro Park Skole in central Copenhagen, 450 primary school students — six grades between the ages of six and 11 — resumed classes two weeks ago after a five-week closure.
Middle school and high school students could return to their desks on May 11 but no official plan has been announced for them yet.
At Norrebro Park Skole, students' morning arrivals are staggered to ensure that hallways and stairways are not overcrowded. And before entering their classrooms, students have to wash their hands.
“I think almost all of them go directly to wash their hands without us even telling them to do it,” Kaas-Larsen said.
The students are happy about the way things are going.
“I like how we wash our hands and everything, because it's to protect us,” said one student named Siham.
A sign has been placed in the nearby park to inform the public they not welcome while pupils at the primary school use it for lessons. 
Photo: Thibault Savary/AFP   
Social distancing is the hardest part for the children, and even for teachers who have to be careful to not get too close to the students, the teacher said.
The class has been divided in two, and while the kids are happy to be back together, some wish there could be more mixing of the groups.
In one huddle of friends, there are murmurings of an upcoming pyjama party.
“Are you sure we're allowed?” asked one child.
In Denmark, gatherings are restricted to a maximum of 10 people, but smaller groups are allowed to get together.
The country on Wednesday confirmed 9,206 cases of the virus and 443 deaths, as Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said it had the spread “under control”.

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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.”