EU health agency urges tighter controls on mink farms after Danish outbreak

The European Union's health agency on Thursday said countries should step up tests on mink farms, in light of the problems Denmark has faced due to a coronavirus outbreak in the animals.

EU health agency urges tighter controls on mink farms after Danish outbreak
Photo: Mads Claus Rasmussen/Ritzau Scanpix

“Infection prevention and control measures for mink farm workers and visitors” could help stop any spread, alongside increased testing of the animals themselves, said the European Center for Disease Control (ECDC), which is mainly responsible for the 27 EU countries plus Britain.

Mink are one of the few animals known to be both vulnerable to coronavirus infection and able to pass it on to humans.

The ECDC, however, made no reference to potential preventive culls, which a spokesman told AFP were “outside its remit”.

Top global mink pelt exporter Denmark had last week ordered a mass cull of more than 15 million animals after a potentially problematic virus variant was discovered.

But Copenhagen has had to backpedal after admitting there was no legal basis for its initial order.


The government plans to bring a law before MPs banning mink farming until 2022.

Scientists say that it's not unusual for viruses to mutate and the process rarely poses an additional threat.

But the strain known as “Cluster 5” discovered in mink could be less susceptible to human antibodies, initial Danish studies showed.

“If these new SARS-CoV-2 variants, with lower susceptibility to neutralising antibodies, spread widely in the population it could potentially affect the level of overall vaccine effectiveness,” the ECDC said.

What's more, “the establishment of a virus reservoir among minks may give rise to problematic virus variants in the future”.

But the agency highlighted that there is “high uncertainty” about the actual level of danger and “further investigations are required regarding the nature of these mutations”.

“Cluster 5” is one of five coronavirus mutations detected among mink, but the others are not seen as problematic.

So far, 214 people have been infected with mutated forms of the virus connected to mink, but only 12 with the “Cluster 5” strain.

Those cases date back to September, with no more recent human infections detected.

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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.”