One month after first restrictions eased, what is status of Covid-19 pandemic in Denmark?

Denmark first announced at the end of February that it would begin to gradually lift its winter Covid-19 lockdown.

One month after first restrictions eased, what is status of Covid-19 pandemic in Denmark?
Inside a Covid-19 testing facility in Copenhagen. photo: Liselotte Sabroe/Ritzau Scanpix

Since then, restrictions on sectors of society including schools and retail have been partially lifted on two occasions, and the government has also announced a plan for a longer-term reopening of society.

Under that plan, which was announced last week, the country hopes to be able to have lifted the majority of all Covid-19 restrictions by the end of May. That is contingent on the current vaccination plan holding – this would see all over 50s vaccinated (should they wish to be) by that time.

IN DETAIL: The coronavirus restrictions Denmark plans to lift, and when they will be lifted

When the first, tentative easing of restrictions was agreed in late February, the government said the decision was taken in accordance with recommendations submitted by an expert group to the Ministry of Health.

Mathematical modelling used by the group worked on a worst-case scenario in which around 870 people would be hospitalised with the virus by mid-April should its recommendations for reopening be followed.

The number is considered to be close to the threshold of the health system’s ability to efficiently cope with patients with the virus.

Tuesday saw the number of Covid-19 inpatients in Danish hospitals increase for the third consecutive day. The figure now stands at 226. Although it dropped under 200 earlier this month, it remains significantly lower than the 870 cited as a possible figure for mid-April.

The most recent daily update includes 722 confirmed cases of the virus amongst 158,909 PCR tests, giving a test positivity rate of 0.45 percent.

Recent weeks have seen a modest increase in the proportion of positive tests, with the positivity rate moving from under 0.3 to over 0.4.

That indicates a mild increase in the epidemic in Denmark, according to Viggo Andreasen, a professor in mathematical epidemiology at Roskilde University.

“This confirms the picture we have has in recent weeks that there is a mild increase in the pandemic,” Andreasen told news wire Ritzau.

“That is a combination of the English [B117, ed.] variant becoming dominant – and it is more infectious and spreads more easily – and the reopenings we have gone through,” he elaborated.

The expert said that, should the upcoming Easter period see an acceleration in the pandemic, there may be cause to reconsider the plan for the later stages of reopening. A new round of restrictions are scheduled to be lifted after Easter, on April 6th. Andreasen does not expect any change to the plans for that date, however, Ritzau writes.

“Increasing infections combined with a lot of uncertainty regarding what Easter will bring make it interesting to see how the infection numbers will look after Easter,” he said.

“As I see it, it could be easy to get into a situation where we have to cancel the next reopening,” he added.

The reproduction rate or R-number for the coronavirus in Denmark is currently 1.1. This means that 10 people with the virus will pass it on to 11 others, causing the epidemic to increase. The figure was also calculated at 1.1 last week.

“The epidemic is still in weak growth,” health minister Magnus Heunicke tweeted.

“Fast and effective local lockdowns are the key to keeping the epidemic in control while we gradually reopen,” he continued, adding a call for people in Denmark to “stick to the good habits” to restrict infections over Easter.

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Denmark’s autumn Covid-19 strategy to be presented ‘before summer’

Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said on Monday that the government will soon present a strategy for managing Covid-19 should the virus resurge in Denmark next autumn and winter.

Denmark’s autumn Covid-19 strategy to be presented 'before summer'

Although everyday life in Denmark is now free of any signs of Covid-19 restrictions, a plan will be put in place to manage a potential increase in cases of the virus once colder months return, Frederiksen said during remarks in parliament.

During a speech given as part of the parliament’s closing session before its summer break, Frederiksen noted that the coronavirus still persists in other countries and that Denmark must therefore have its own plan in place for future management of outbreaks.

“The government will therefore, before the summer (holiday), present a strategy for ongoing Covid management. We will discuss it with the other parties in parliament,” she said.

Frederiksen also said that Denmark was among the countries to have coped best with the pandemic.

“We are one of the countries that have had the lowest excess deaths. And one of the countries that has emerged best from the crisis economically. That is thanks to the efforts of each individual citizen in the country,” she said.

A new wave of Covid-19 cases later this year can be expected, according to a Danish medical expert.

“As things look now, we can reasonably hope that the thoroughly vaccinated population will be well protected against serious cases and that we will therefore see few hospitalisations,” Henrik Nielsen, senior medical consultant at Aalborg University’s infectious disease department, told news wire Ritzau.

“But the number of infections could very easily be high in the autumn and winter with a respiratory virus that gives a few days’ sickness. We expected serious cases to be limited in number,” he said.