How could infectious Covid-19 variant impact Denmark’s infection numbers?

Denmark is maintaining tight restrictions against Covid-19, due in part to concerns over the spread of the more infectious B117 variant. How much could the variant impact infection numbers?

How could infectious Covid-19 variant impact Denmark’s infection numbers?
Aalborg University researchers analyse Covid-19 test swabs for the B117 variant. Photo: Henning Bagger/Ritzau Scanpix

A new report issued by the State Serum Institute (SSI), the national infectious disease agency, on Tuesday sets out prognoses for the expected effect of the B117 variant in Denmark’s infection numbers in coming months.

The prognoses will be used as the scientific background for ongoing management of the pandemic, SSI writes.

The B117 variant has previously been estimated to be between 50-74 percent more infectious than established forms of Covid-19.

It is expected to comprise 50 percent of all Covid-19 variants in circulation in Denmark by the middle of February, according to SSI’s report. It has been traced to have first appeared in Denmark in November, but was reported to have become established in the south east of England in December.

In the report, SSI states that it is crucial that spread of the B117 variant in Denmark is limited.

READ ALSO: Danish PM hints at new extension of Covid-19 lockdown despite drop in infections

“The prognoses for infection numbers at the start of April depend strongly on the relative reproduction rate of cluster B117, which describes how much higher the reproduction rate is for cluster B117 compared to other circulating variants,” said Dr. Camilla Holten Møller, professor and head of the SSI expert group behind the report.

The reproduction rate, also known as the R-number, is a measure of much the epidemic is spreading. If it is above 1.0, 10 people will infect at least another 10, and the virus will continue to spread. If it is below 1.0, the virus will recede.

According to SSI, the relative R-number for B117 is 1.36, which can be calculated to an actual reproduction rate of 1.16 (not relative to other variants). Denmark’s overall R-number is currently estimated to be 0.6. The calculations for B117 contain a degree of uncertainty due to limited data.

A relative R-number of 1.36 would result in infection numbers of 400 per day by the beginning of April, according to the report. If it is as high as 1.53, the daily infection numbers could be as high as 4,000 daily, close to the highest levels recorded in mid-December, when the winter wave of the virus was at its (hitherto) peak in Denmark. The calculations are based on an assumption that societal activity remains at the current level.

“In summary, we can say that B117, even with the current restrictions, has an R-number of over 1.0. The future course for infection rates is strongly dependent on how high the relative R-number for B117 develops along with the concurrent vaccine rollout and level of activity in society,” the report states.

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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.”