Denmark to test all positive Covid-19 swabs for infectious variants

Denmark is to begin testing all Covid-19 swabs for variants including the more infectious B117 form first detected in the United Kingdom.

Denmark to test all positive Covid-19 swabs for infectious variants
A Covid-19 test centre in Copenhagen. Photo: Emil Helms/Ritzau Scanpix

A new testing method will check swabs for variants which authorities want to monitor, broadcaster DR reports. That means testing for the B117 variant, the more infectious form of Covid-19 first detected in the UK last month.

Authorities in Denmark are concerned that the variant, which is spreading in the country, will cause a new spike in cases in coming weeks.

READ ALSO: Denmark's Covid-19 infections in slight fall-off but infectious variant spreads

Testing for the variant means the national infectious agency, SSI, will have a better idea of its prevalence.

For individuals who test positive for Covid-19, isolation requirements are the same regardless of which variant is detected. So far, there is no evidence that the variant results in more severe illness than other variants.

The new method is to be used at test centres nationally from Wednesday.

Positive Covid-19 PCR tests will be sent for further analysis using a so-called Delta-PCR test, according to DR. That test will show whether a mutated form of Covid-19 is present within 12-24 hours. If this is the case, the sample will then be tested again to ascertain which variant is at play.

Experts told DR that it was now necessary to monitor the extent to which the B117 variant is spreading throughout Denmark.

Testing for the B117 variant “can be used in an intensified contact tracing,” Anne-Marie Vangsted, director of Testcenter Danmark which operates the country’s Covid-19 testing, told DR.

A variant first detected in Romania and coronavirus from minks will also be screened for using the new method.

Authorities remain particularly concerned with the B117 variant, however. Experts in the UK have estimated the variant to be between 50 and 74 percent more infectious than previous forms.

Denmark’s national infectious disease agency SSI has said it expects the variant to have outcompeted others and become the dominant form in Denmark by the middle of February.

“We must monitor this variant very intensively so we know how the epidemic with this variant is progressing, because it acts much more contagiously than the ones we already know,” Allan Randrup Thomsen, a professor in experimental virology at the University of Copenhagen, told DR.

Better knowledge of the variant will also give improved basis for deciding whether to introduce even tighter restrictions on society than the national lockdown which is currently in place, the broadcaster writes.

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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.”