Denmark to further ramp up Covid-19 testing capacity amid reopening plan

Denmark is to add coronavirus testing capacity as part of its plan to gradually lift coronavirus restrictions.

Denmark to further ramp up Covid-19 testing capacity amid reopening plan
Justice minister Nick Hækkerup (2nd L) with a map showing Denmark's Covid-19 test centres at Thursday's briefing. Photo: Mads Claus Rasmussen/Ritzau Scanpix

The current capacity to test 400,000 people with a combination of PCR tests and rapid tests every day will increase to 700,000 by mid-May, justice minister Nick Hækkerup said at a briefing on Wednesday afternoon.

Denmark this week announced a plan for the gradual lifting of coronavirus restrictions through to the end of May, even as many other countries in Europe are facing new waves of the virus and tightening restrictions.

The plan already includes the use of so-called ‘corona passports’, while the country’s already ample testing capacity is to be further expanded, the government said in the briefing.

Corona passports will not only be used to document vaccination against the virus, but also a recent negative test, which will be a requirement to use a number of services once they reopen.

READ ALSO: How will Denmark use ‘corona passports’ in post-restriction reality?

The capacity of 400,000 daily tests will increase to 500,000 following next week’s Easter holiday and will reach 700,000 by the middle of May, Hækkerup said.

“We can ramp the capacity up to around 500,000. We are going to do that. In the middle of May the capacity can be further ramped up to 700,000,” the minister said.

Waiting times for tests can nevertheless be expected at certain points, for example at scheduled reopening dates and prior to public holidays, when larger number of people will be likely to seek tests.

Hækkerup called for the public to be patient and ensure they receive a test when necessary, even if it involves queuing.

A total of 516 test sites are currently in operation in Denmark, meaning no point in the country is currently more than 20 kilometres from the nearest testing facility, Lisbet Zilmer-Johns, the director of the relevant national agency, Styrelsen for Forsyningssikkerhed, said at the briefing.

Last week saw 1.1 million tests for the coronavirus conducted in the country, almost double the 572,000 in the first week of the year.

The government has said that a high level of testing plays a role in its strategy for keeping the pandemic under control in Denmark as the country reopens.

Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen suggested last month that people in Denmark would be likely to be required to take a test twice weekly once the country lifted its lockdown. That is not the strategy currently, however, Hækkerup said on Thursday.

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What is Denmark’s Covid-19 testing strategy for the winter?

Danish health authorities on Wednesday presented the country’s plan for testing for Covid-19 during the next autumn and winter, when a new wave of the coronavirus is expected.

What is Denmark’s Covid-19 testing strategy for the winter?

The testing strategy for the latter months of 2022 will rely more on PCR testing than rapid antigen or “quick test” centres, Health Minister Magnus Heunicke said at a briefing on Wednesday.

At the briefing, Denmark’s strategy for responding to an expected resurgence of the coronavirus during the colder months was presented.

READ ALSO: Denmark to offer all over-50s autumn Covid-19 vaccine

In 2020 and 2021, Denmark administered huge quantities of Covid-19 tests to its residents through a combination of municipal PCR test centres and rapid antigen testing at separate centres, which were run by private companies awarded contacts by the state.

The rapid test centres were eventually phased out in favour of home antigen tests.

Since March this year, health authorities have advised that Covid-19 testing is only recommended if there is a “special medical reason” for doing so.

This winter will see capacity at PCR test centres upscaled in response to rising case numbers, with rapid test centres not expected to be used, Heunicke said on Wednesday.

“We be able to quickly upscale to 200,000 daily PCR tests if this becomes necessary,” Heunicke said.

Testing will remain an important part of the national Covid-19 strategy because it will speed up treatment for vulnerable and elderly people who contract Covid-19, the minister said.

Denmark will also be able to genome sequence 4,000 Covid-19 tests weekly, which will enable new variants or subvariants of the coronavirus to be detected.

A new subvariant of the Omicron variant, BA. 5, is currently spreading in Denmark and recently became the dominant form. It currently comprises 59 percent of positive tests, according to Heunicke.

READ ALSO: Omicron subvariant now dominant in Denmark

Current infection numbers remain at a relatively low level, the health minister stressed at Wednesday’s briefing.

Health authorities envisage three possible scenarios for future waves of Covid-19, he said.

In the first of these, a new subvariant of the Omicron variant spreads but is not expected to have a greater effect on the health services than the variant did last winter.

The early months of 2022 saw Covid-related ICU admissions remain limited and social restrictions were lifted despite high case numbers with the transmissible Omicron variant.

In a second scenario, a new variant comparable to the Delta variant, which caused more severe illness, emerges. In that scenario, protection of elderly and vulnerable people would be more important, Heunicke said.

In the third scenario, a new variant that escapes community immunity breaks out.

Which of the three scenarios will become reality in Denmark in coming months is uncertain, Heunicke said.

The three situations are very different but all considered by the government strategy which aims to respond “quickly and effectively” with the objective of avoiding lockdowns and restrictions, he said.

READ ALSO: Danish PM expects coming winter without Covid-19 lockdowns