How did Denmark reverse its summer Covid-19 spike?

After a concerning increase in new coronavirus infections at the end of July and beginning of August, Denmark appears to have controlled the outbreak.

How did Denmark reverse its summer Covid-19 spike?
A screen at an Aarhus Letbane stop asking passengers to maintain social distance. Photo: Mads Claus Rasmussen/Ritzau Scanpix

Daily new cases of Covid-19 have been under 100 for the last four consecutive days, while yesterday’s total of 57 was the lowest since July 29th.

The reproduction number for Covid-19 in Denmark now stands at 0.8, meaning that every infected person infects an average of 0.8 more people. The number reached 1.5 people earlier in the month and was last week reported to be at 1.0.

Hospitalisations with the virus also remain low. 19 people are currently admitted to hospitals in Denmark with the virus. Three are in intensive care with two of these receiving ventilator treatment at the time of writing.

Following health authority guidelines, testing and tracking remain crucial in preventing outbreaks, experts have said in reaction to the positive recent trend.

“This is very good news and exactly what we wanted to see. Corona levels are very low in Denmark compared to other countries. At the moment around 0.3-0.4 percent of people tested are positive. If you look at some areas of the United States, it’s at 5-10 percent,” Lone Simonsen, a professor specialising in epidemics at Roskilde University, told broadcaster DR.

Another expert cited public willingness to follow guidelines as a major factor in Denmark’s low infection numbers.

“This looks very good. We are extremely smart in Denmark and we generally have a public which listens to good advice, and we have a system with regard to monitoring and tracing which, although it could be refined, ultimately functions well,” Lars Østergaard, a professor at Aarhus University Hospital, said to DR.

Hospitalisation and fatality numbers are in fact so low at the current time that there is “no actual basis for keeping many things closed in Denmark,” a third professor said to the broadcaster.

“The primary parameters we should look at if you ask me is the number of hospitalisations. On that point, things are going very well. The only reason to be a tiny bit worried is that we know what this virus is capable of if we don’t do anything,” said Søren Riis Paludan, a professor of virology and immunology at Aarhus University.

“But the measures are actually working so well that maybe we should dare to do a little more. We have such strong resources, so we could actually have something close to a normally-functioning society,” he added.

Better testing and tracing capabilities along with public awareness of the virus and guidelines have been key in returning figures to lower levels, according to Simonsen.

“But there is always a potential for an exponential increase if we begin to relax completely. That’s why it’s important to keep going and maintain respect for the epidemic,” she told DR.

Increasing infections in Denmark in the first half of August were linked to an outbreak at an abattoir in Ringsted and a significant spark in cases in Aarhus, the country’s second-largest city. There were also a number of other smaller local outbreaks, notably in Central Jutland town Silkeborg.

“But we can now see that infections are on the way down again. I am impressed by how well it has gone. The measures that were put in place seem to have worked. It could have gone badly, as we have seen with other cities around the world,” Østergaard said to DR.

READ ALSO: Danes shift to mandatory face masks without a hitch

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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.”