Why is Denmark not recommending face masks to the public?

On Monday, French commuters joined their counterparts in Germany and a long list of other European countries in wearing face masks on public transport. So why is Denmark holding out?

Why is Denmark not recommending face masks to the public?
Commuters wearing protective face masks arrive at the Saint-Lazare train station on May 11. Photo: Niels Christian Vilmann/Ritzau Scanpix
The Danish Health Authority has from the start of the coronavirus pandemic advised the general public against wearing face masks in public, arguing both that the benefits are unproven, and that doing so risks making it more difficult for health authorities to source supplies. 
“The Danish Health Authority does not recommend that healthy people who move around in public generally wear face masks,” the authority explains in a Question and Answer section on its website. 
“This is partly because it is uncertain whether it has an effect on the spread of infection, but also because we must ensure that we will not lack face masks where they are most important, in the health and care sector.”
According to the Politiken newspaper, however, the Authority has over the past week changed this advice to remove a section claiming that “nothing suggests” that the masks have an effect on transmission of the virus when worn by the general public. 
Henning Bundgaard, Professor in Cardiology at Copenhagen University, who is conducting a trial on the efficacy of face masks, told The Local that he believed Denmark was right to exercise caution. 
“No one has any documentation that face masks outside hospitals work at all,” he said. “And I think it is rational to provide this documentation before we demand that people need to wear masks out in the open.” 
He said that masks came with many disadvantages. 
“It comes with a price for most people: You have to pay for the masks; it is inconvenient to wear it; is difficult to talk to people when you can't see their face; if people working hard, it can be hard to breathe, and we don't know how long a mask last for.” 
Perhaps the biggest issue, he added, was that masks might create a sense of false security.  
“If you feel safe, you might change your behaviour, maybe you get closer to people and maybe you don't wash your hands so often,” he said.  “So the achievement might be none, or you might be worse off in fact.” 
He said he did not think that the issue of face masks was so urgent that Denmark's government or health authorities should demand them without requiring evidence of their effectiveness, even though his own study would not generate results until the end of June. 
“It won't be too late,” he said. “We are talk about second and third waves of this pandemic.” 
Governments around the world have increasingly begun recommending masks as evidence has increased that people with coronavirus can be highly infectious before they begin to show symptoms. 
In a written response to the Politiken newspaper, Dan Brun Petersen, Director of Evidence, Training and Emergency Preparedness at the Danish Health Authority, conceded that people could be infectious even without symptoms. 
“But we also know that the greatest risk of infection is from people with symptoms, especially from coughing and sneezing, ie. what one would normally perceive as 'sick',” he told the newspaper. 
The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, the EU's infectious disease agency, at the start of April advised EU governments that masks could be helpful in reducing transmission. 
“A face mask may help reduce the spread of infection in the community by minimising the excretion of respiratory droplets from infected individuals who may not even know they are infected and before they develop any symptoms,” it reported. 
It added, though, that it was not currently recommending that people who do not feel ill, or who are not working in healthcare or other care roles, wear masks. 
This came despite its acknowledgement that worn properly, non-medical and even home-made masks might reduce the spread of infection if worn by those with asymptomatic infections, even if they might not protect the wearer themselves. 
WHO’s guidance on ‘Non-pharmaceutical public health measures for mitigating the risk and impact of epidemic and pandemic influenza’, also recommends face mask use in the community for “asymptomatic individuals in severe

Member comments

  1. Topical Danish board thinking. No one wants to take a decision which might fail and then suffer untold derision from the rest of the board members for the rest of his life. So things have to be extenuosly planed and thought and debated before any decision is made. If you guys want to know if masks work, start using them and learn as you go and no one will bite you.

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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.”