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‘Men in Black’: Who are Denmark’s anti-corona protestors?

Recent months have seen regular protests in Copenhagen by a diverse group of people – conspiracy theorists, anti-vaxxers, libertarians and the general public – who are joined in opposing the government’s management of the Covid-19 pandemic.

'Men in Black': Who are Denmark’s anti-corona protestors?
The 'Men in Black' movement demonstrates in Copenhagen on April 10th. Photo: Martin Sylvest/Ritzau Scanpix

“I’m a fan of freedom!” says Anders, one of the thousand or so Danes demonstrating twice a month with the ‘Men in Black’ movement against Denmark’s Covid rules.

“The restrictions are ridiculous.” 

At a recent Saturday protest, the 45-year-old plumber, who like other demonstrators refused to disclose his last name, said he had come out to defend his right to freedom of movement — with or without a facemask, a Covid test or vaccination.

Denmark’s ‘corona pass’ is increasingly required for activities ranging from haircuts to restaurant visits.

But Anders told AFP: “We should be able to decide for ourselves.”

The pass shows that a person has either tested negative, recovered, or been vaccinated. It has been accepted by most Danes, who pay little attention to the protesters.

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But about a thousand people have come out on this grey Saturday to express their frustration over the impact the Covid restrictions are having on their lives.

Many of them believe Covid is nothing more than a moderately contagious bad flu. The proof, they say, is that no one has ever fallen ill after one of their gatherings — though few of them ever get tested afterwards.

Vivian, a 29-year-old student and mother, had travelled from Aarhus to Copenhagen to join the demonstration.

“The restrictions have ruined mental health and businesses,” she said.

‘Men in Black’, created as a Facebook group in late 2020, has quickly grown into the most vocal anti-restrictions group in Denmark, usually better known for its quality of life than public uprisings.

To judge from those attending the marches most of the 23,000 members who joined the movement online appear to be young men, often clad in black sweatshirts, with shaven heads or balaclava masks, a can of beer in one hand.

They chant “Mette Ciao” — a reference to Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen — and “Freedom for Denmark”.

But there are also children marching, as well as a big heart-shaped glow stick and posters offering “Free Hugs”, adding a sense of cheer.

The first protests led to clashes with police, but since then the marches have generally unfolded peacefully.

READ ALSO: Eight arrested at anti-lockdown protest in Danish capital

“I like that we can see each other, we can hug,” says Ebsen, who had brought along his 12-year-old son who had been confined to home schooling for the past four months.

“I miss all the social parts,” he added. “Even if there’s corona, I can enjoy the fact that I’ve made 10-15 new friends.” 

The demonstrators are a mix of conspiracy theorists, anti-vaxxers, libertarians and the general public.

While the movement did bar a notorious anti-Muslim activist from its protests, its members’ beliefs span the political spectrum.

Their distrust of established political parties renders any dialogue with politicians difficult — and contrasts sharply with Danes’ traditionally high level of trust in the authorities.

“What they share is a certain level of mistrust against government and mistrust towards production of knowledge,” says Eske Vinther Jensen, a consultant specialising in Covid-19 disinformation.  

The list of ‘MIB’ complaints has grown since January, now ranging from facemasks to corona passes, vaccines and harsher penalties for infractions of Covid restrictions.

“Corona is a scam,” said Morten, who said he was one of the movement’s leaders.

His friend Dennis agreed. “Covid is an excuse to get people’s DNA in a database.”

The government was aggravating divisions in Denmark’s largely homogenous society with its corona passes, he argued.

“What they’re doing right now, it’s an A-side of society and a B-side… to divide the people, to make us weaker,” he said.

So what is the future for this movement, now that Denmark is opening up again after a partial lockdown?

“There is a small risk that the MIB movement could be converted into something more permanent,” said Danish crisis scholar Rasmus Dahlberg.

“But it will require stronger leadership, which we haven’t seen, and a clearer profile on what it is that they are protesting against.” 

Vinther Jensen said the gatherings could lead to “a more inclusive public debate, including people we haven’t heard from before”.

“It is a great opportunity to try to understand what they are afraid of,” he said.

“If we think it’s only about corona I think we’re missing the point.”

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COVID-19

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.” 

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