Don’t expect Denmark to reopen at start of February: minister

Denmark’s current coronavirus lockdown is scheduled to expire on February 7th, but an actual reopening in coming weeks is unlikely.

Don’t expect Denmark to reopen at start of February: minister
'Temporarily Closed' signs at Copenhagen Zoo. Photo: Emil Helms/Ritzau Scanpix

Health minister Magnus Heunicke said in comments to broadcaster DR that he does not expect a large scale reopening of society at the beginning of next month.

The current restrictions include the closure of schools, universities and non-essential stores as well as requiring most people to work from home where possible; public assembly limits of no more than 5 people; and mandatory face mask use in indoor public areas.

They have been in full effect since December 25th and had already been extended once before the new deadline of February 7th was announced.

Infection rates and hospitalisation numbers in the country have fallen significantly since last month.

Wednesday saw 592 new cases of Covid-19 registered by health authorities from 112,894 tests. That gives a test positivity rate of 0.52 percent.

A total of 666 people are currently hospitalised across the country due to Covid-19, according to official data. That figure exceeded 900 when peaking in December 2020.

The reproduction rate or R-number – a measure of whether the virus is spreading in society – is currently estimated to be at 0.8. If the R-number is less than 1.0, the overall number of infections will fall.

Despite these encouraging signs, health authority concerns over the more infectious B117 variant, first identified in the United Kingdom, mean any talk of reopening businesses or schools remains on hold.

The R-number for the B117 variant alone is 1.07, according to DR’s report on Tuesday.

Because it is more infectious, B117 could cause a new wave of cases once it becomes the dominant form of the virus – which it is on course to do – unless restrictions keep it under control, health authorities have said.

“It is not realistic to have a major easing (of restrictions) in February,” Heunicke told DR.

“All our efforts now are about taking the strength out of the epidemic so there is as little fuel as possible when the British variant takes over,” Heunicke said, choosing to refer to B117 by the country in which it was first identified.

“In the countries in which re-openings have happened at the same time as the British variant taking control of the epidemic, things have gone completely wrong. We must hold on here,” he also said.

Henrik Ullum the director of the State Serum Institute, the national infectious disease agency, said on Tuesday that current infection rates were good news but there is also cause for concern.

“I am pleased about the way in which the public has taken on board the restrictions and good advice,” Ullum told DR.

“But I am just as concerned about B117 as I always have been. It is more infectious, and if we open up, it will spread explosively,” he said.

READ ALSO: Denmark set to enforce entry quarantine as parliament backs move


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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.”