Danish navy transports Covid vaccines to remote Greenland areas

Denmark's military has started delivering Covid vaccines to remote settlements along Greenland's west coast, part of efforts to vaccinate isolated communities in the vast territory where logistics are complicated by extreme cold weather.

Danish navy transports Covid vaccines to remote Greenland areas
File photo: Mads Claus Rasmussen/Ritzau Scanpix

A naval patrol ship set out in mid-February to visit two settlements, fitted with a specialised refrigerator to store doses of the vaccine and transporting civilian medical staff to administer them at the request of Greenland’s health authorities.

The autonomous Danish territory’s 56,000 inhabitants are spread over some two million square kilometres, with a limited road network and the Arctic weather throwing up hurdles to air travel.

Greenland’s health authorities have barred entry to the territory until April 18th, with 31 cases of the infection and no deaths reported since the beginning of the pandemic.

Vaccinations started on January 4 and Greenland’s authorities asked the Danish military’s Joint Arctic command in the capital Nuuk to help with settlements unreachable by air or due to the weather.

Six percent of the territory’s population has been vaccinated so far, the head of Greenland’s health authority told broadcaster KNR.

“Remote locations are difficult to access because of sea ice, because of adverse weather conditions and because of the lack of airports and seaports,” Joint Arctic Command chief Dan Termansen told AFP.

“We have been asked to assist transporting vaccines and health personnel”.

Footage released by the military showed the Knud Rasmussen, a sleek, matt-grey naval patrol ship 61 metres (200 feet) long, pressing through chunks of sea ice by night.

After setting out from Nuuk for the southwestern coast, it approached Paamiut on February 16th.

Mooring in the settlement’s small, snow-covered port, surrounded by a handful of squat houses and buildings, the team disembarked down the gang plank and set up in a small nursing home, preparing and administering the Pfizer vaccine to some 233 people, mostly aged 65 and over.

The patrol boat then sailed to its second destination, the settlement of Qeqertarsuatsiaat, with a population of 170. 

Anchored in the icy waters off the group of brightly coloured buildings dotting the shoreline, the ship sent its team to vaccinate some 90 people before returning to Nuuk.

Termansen said the first stage of the mission had gone well and that the crew’s experience would be used to plan upcoming deliveries, which he said would continue until all remote areas had been reached

“The findings and experience gained from this mission we will adapt for further missions to the north. That will be a somewhat different mission because of sea ice and also adverse weather conditions,” he said.

READ ALSO: Denmark apologises to children taken from Greenland in 1950s

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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.”