Leaked mails reveal battle over Denmark’s lockdown

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.

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
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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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.”