Denmark reports first community transmission of B1351 variant

A further case of the B1351 coronavirus variant has been detected in Denmark, health minister Magnus Heunicke said on Wednesday.

Denmark reports first community transmission of B1351 variant
File photo: Emil Helms/Ritzau Scanpix

The more infectious variant, first detected in South Africa, is one of those — along with B117, which originated in the United Kingdom — that has given rise to concern amongst authorities.

It has now been established that there are nine cases of the variant in Denmark. However, this is the first case where infection has not been linked to travel.

“Our infection tracking not been able to find out how the person was infected. But it cannot be ruled out that there are signs of a certain low level of infection [with the variant] in Denmark,” said Heunicke.

“We are keeping an eye on the future and we have a very effective response procedure. That is crucial,” the minister said at a press briefing on Wednesday.

According to the national infectious disease agency State Serum Institute (SSI), the B1351 variant may have reduced sensitivity to antibodies.

That can affect the effectiveness of Covid-19 vaccines. However, SSI has said that the vaccines are still expected to work.

Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna, which are behind two of the three vaccines being used against COVID-19, have said that their vaccines work.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) the vaccine from the third producer – AstraZeneca – can also be used in countries where the South African variant is widespread.

But South Africa has sought to swap its AstraZeneca vaccines because the country feared that the vaccine would not be as effective against the variant.

The variant was first confirmed in South Africa on December 18th but has been found in samples dating back to October.

The first cases of the variant in Denmark were found among individuals and close contacts after they had returned from travel to West Africa, East Africa and the United Arab Emirates.

READ ALSO: Covid-19: Denmark plans twice-weekly testing as path out of lockdown

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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.”