Leaked mails reveal battle over Denmark's lockdown

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Leaked mails reveal battle over Denmark's lockdown
The extent to which Søren Brostrøm, director of the Danish Health Authority, was sidelined over the lockdown, is becoming clearer. Photo: Ida Guldbæk Arentsen/Ritzau Scanpix

Leaked emails between leading figures in Denmark's health authorities are raising questions over the extent to which Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen steam-rollered her own health experts at the time the country imposed its lockdown in mid-March.


In an email leaked to the Politiken newspaper, Per Okkel, the top civil servant at the health ministry, told Søren Bostrøm, the head of the Danish Health Authority to suspend his sense of professional "proportionality" as a public servant, and instead adopt a "extreme precautionary principle" when giving political advice. 
At the same time, emails leaked to the Ekstrabladet newspaper showed how on March 20, new calculations showing that the reproduction number in Denmark was 2.1, considerably lower than the 2.6 previously estimated, were held back because they were "not desired politically".
The health spokesperson for the opposition Liberal party told the Politiken newspaper that the email to Bostrøm was "totally crazy." 
"It is quite simply a huge problem if you start trying to politically manage the official advice you receive," he said. 
"When in the [health] department you can write to the Danish Health Authority, sand say 'now you just have to think about putting this into a political context when you reply'. If that is really what it says, in my honest conviction, that is quite worrying ”.
He said the decision to hold back publication of the better than expected reproduction number showed the issue was gaining "scandalous dimensions." 
"The people have had a high degree of confidence in the authorities and the government, and now you just have to say that the trust doesn't go the other way," he told the broadcaster TV2
"The government and the prime minister apparently were of the opinion that there is information the public cannot bear to hear."


In the email chain about the suppressed briefing note, Kåre Molbæk, Denmark's top epidemiologist, and Søren Brostrøm, head of the Danish Health Authority, both said they wanted to release the new number. 
But Brostrøm told Molbæk that this would not be possible until the next week, when Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen announced the lockdown extension.  
"I'm completely in agreement..." he said. "But this is not desired politically, and my understanding is that it can be annnounced on Monday at the earliest." 
Ekstra Bladet pointed out that Frederiksen had used, and exaggerated, the 2.6 figure in a speech the previous week. 
"If one person infects three others and they each infect three, then nine people are infected. And if the nine again infect three, then we are at nearly 30 infected," she said. 
Using the 2.1 figure, the real final number would have been just 9.2 infected, a dramatic difference. 


In an in-depth article, the Politiken newspaper detailed how the government's emergency law on March 12 had stripped powers from the Danish Health Authority, changing it from an "regulatory authority" to an "advisory" one. 
This allowed the government to ignore the authority's opinion that Covid-19 was not a sufficiently dangerous disease to permit   the government to impose compulsory interventions on the public under Denmark's epidemic law.  
As late as March 15, the Danish health Authority, argued there was insufficient ground for banning public events and gatherings of ten people under the law. 
"The Danish Health Authority continues to consider that covid-19 cannot be described as a generally dangerous disease, as it does not have either a usually serious course or a high mortality rate," it wrote. 
"The National Board of Health continues to find that there are no grounds for a general exemption for covid-19 in accordance with the provisions of section 10 ...".



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