Danish government’s call for forced local Covid-19 testing rejected

A proposal to force residents in Odense neighbourhood Vollsmose to take a Covid-19 test has been rejected by parliament, but people in the area could be required to comply with self-isolation if they test positive for the coronavirus.

Danish government’s call for forced local Covid-19 testing rejected
A mobile test unit in Vollsmose on Thursday. Photo: Tim Kildeborg Jensen/Ritzau Scanpix

The government could enforce self-isolation for people in Odense neighbourhood Vollsmose if they test positive for Covid-19.

That comes after reports yesterday that mandatory testing could be enforced in the area, which currently has a high incidence rate with the virus.

A majority in parliament’s epidemic committee has rejected forced testing but backed the government’s proposal for enforcing quarantine, broadcaster DR reported.

Health minister Magnus Heunicke confirmed the decision after a lengthy meeting on Monday evening.

“I can confirm that a majority in parliament is not prepared to do what our health authorities say is necessary to break the infections curve in Vollmose,” Heunicke said.

The minister said that the government’s epidemic commission had recommended mandatory tests as an element in the response to the area’s current high infection rate.

The health spokesperson for the Conservative party, one of the parties which opposed the measure, said a mandatory requirement for testing was too far-reaching for the current situation.

“We’ve gone through a whole year without giving out fines to people (for not taking tests). Why should we do it now when we are in a more solid position than we have been for a long time,” Per Larsen told DR.

The left-wing Red Green Alliance also rejected the proposal. The party’s spokesperson Peder Hvelplund wrote on Twitter that coercion should be the “last option” and called the government’s reasoning for using it to test in Vollsmose “thin”.

Peter Skaarup, health spokesperson with the populist Danish people’s party, tweeted he was “disappointed” with the outcome and called enforced testing “the only way forward” in “immigrant-dominated” Vollsmose.

The largest opposition party, the Liberals, rejected the proposal, as did the far-right Nye Borgerlige (New Right).

People who test positive for Covid-19 in the area could see legal enforcement of the quarantine requirement, however, with this measure receiving majority backing.

That means non-compliance with quarantine can be legally penalised by issuing a fine.

Vollsmose, located in Denmark’s third-largest city Odense, is one of the most underprivileged areas in the country. It is classed as a “hard ghetto” by the government, which annually defines areas as such based on criteria including the ethnic background, employment status and income of residents.

The infection rate in the area is now 951.5 per 100,000 residents, according to DR. That puts it some distance ahead of the highest infection rate for any single municipality in the country. The highest municipal infection rate is currently that of Ishøj near Copenhagen, which has 201.2 infections per 100,000 residents for the last week, according to official data.

Vollsmose is part of Odense Municipality, which has an overall incidence rate of 103.3 cases per 100,000 residents for the last 7 days.

Broadcaster DR reported earlier on Monday that the number of Covid-19 tests taken in the neighbourhood trebled last week, from 500 in one day on March 1st to 1,519 on Sunday. 12 new infections were detected in the area on Monday according to DR.

Local media TV2 Fyn reported that 7,000-8,000 people were tested in the neighbourhood during the week up to March 7th. The population of the area is around 9,100.

Odense mayor Peter Rahbæk Juel told TV2 Fyn that “we cannot now find any neighbourhood in Denmark that has been tested more than Vollsmose”.

The Odense Municipality has asked everyone over the age of 12 in the suburb to take two tests a week until the local incidence rate comes under control.

A professor in medical law told DR that he did not believe the situation with Covid-19 infections in Vollsmose called for the intervention of forced testing.

“Covid-19 is not so deadly that forced testing would be proportional with the problem. And also not given the high voluntary test rate in Vollsmose,” Kent Kristensen of the University of Southern Denmark told the broadcaster.

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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.”