Denmark to test sewage water for Covid-19

Denmark is to test for the prevalence of coronavirus in certain areas by analysing sewage water, the country’s health minister has said.

Denmark to test sewage water for Covid-19
Health minister Magnus Heunicke. Photo: Emil Helms/Ritzau Scanpix

Health minister Magnus Heunicke said in parliament on Tuesday that Denmark would follow the example of some other countries, including Sweden and the United Kingdom, by analysing sewage water for traces of Covid-19.

“My expectation is that within a reasonable timescale we will be able to test sewage water in Denmark. This should, of course, be done sensibly. We can, for example, monitor specific areas where there is not high compliance with testing,” he said.

The minister has asked the national infectious disease agency, State Serum Institute (SSI), to form a plan for how and when analysis of sewage water can be used as part of the national Covid-19 testing strategy. A response is expected this week.

A spokesperson from the opposition Liberal party suggested that care homes are an ideal place for testing of this type. A high proportion of residents at the homes have now received a Covid-19 vaccination.

But no specific locations for testing will be confirmed prior to the SSI assessment, Heunicke said.

According to prior assessments by SSI, testing sewage water can be a useful supplement to regular testing if vaccination is underway, fewer people are receiving tests or if infection numbers are low.

Detection of the virus in sewage water prior to an outbreak of symptomatic cases can help to control virus spread, the agency has found.

However, the method is less reliable than direct testing of individuals.

Denmark currently has 371 coronavirus in-patients nationally, continuing a trend of falling infection rates and hospitalisations during the ongoing national lockdown.

READ ALSO: Danish regions switch Covid-19 rapid test provider after problems

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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.”