Danish health minister knew of threat from mink mutation in September

Health minister Magnus Heunicke was aware as early as September 22nd that mutations of the coronavirus in mink could be a concern in relation to potential vaccines, according to a Danish media report.

Danish health minister knew of threat from mink mutation in September
Health minister Magnus Heunicke. Photo: Emil Helms/Ritzau Scanpix

Health minister Magnus Heunicke, like former agriculture minister Mogens Jensen, was made aware in September of the potential threat to coronavirus vaccines presented by a mutation of Covid-19 in mink, according to newspaper Information.

Former agriculture minister Jensen, who resigned last week, was criticised for taking too long to react to the potential threat.

The culling of all minks in the country was announced on November 4th.

READ ALSO: Danish corona mink mutation 'most likely eradicated'

According to Information’s report, Heunicke and Jensen both knew of the issue after being informed of the contents of a note issued by national infectious disease agency the State Serum Institute on September 22nd.

The newspaper reviewed a summary of the course of events, presented last week by the government in response to heavy criticism from opposition and some allied parties over its response to the mink outbreak. It compared this with confidential health authority documents, according to the report.

As such, Heunicke, like Jensen, was aware of the issue with the mutation for a number of weeks, but did not inform parliament or the public.

The government responded to the discovery of the mutation by shutting down North Jutland (now reopened) and culling every fur farm mink in the country, effectively bringing an end to a billion-kroner industry. The latter order turned out to have no legal basis.

“This is simply not good enough. There’s a need to be proactive in a different way. The earlier action had been taken, the smaller the problem would have been. There’s no doubt about that,” Hans Jørgen Kolmos, a professor of clinical microbiology at the University of Southern Denmark, told Information.

Heunicke first connected the mink mutations with a possible threat to vaccines in an interview with TV MidtVest on October 12th.

At that time, he connected this with the decision to cull mink only on farms with confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the animals, and at mink farms within a 7.8 kilometre radius of these.

In a comment provided to the newspaper, Heunicke said that “The Ministry of the Environment and Food [then led by Jensen, ed.] has the task of informing parties about the decision and background for it,” in relation to the decision to cull mink within the 7.8-kilometre zone.

Additionally, he wrote that “the government has been in ongoing contact with spokespersons from parliamentary parties regarding mutation in mink, in keeping with information received by our authorities about this problem”.

READ ALSO: 'We're in shock': Denmark's mink farmers despair as livelihood dies with animals

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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.”