Why is Denmark easing restrictions with Covid-19 infections on mild rise?

Denmark on Tuesday announced that coronavirus restrictions will be further lifted on Friday May 21st, despite a slight increase in infection numbers in the last week.

Why is Denmark easing restrictions with Covid-19 infections on mild rise?
State Serum Institute (SSI) director Henrik Ullumat an earlier press briefing. Photo: Emil Helms/Ritzau Scanpix

Although infection metrics have recently shown a slight increase, the country is in a good position to ease restrictions, according to Henrik Ullum, head of the national infectious disease agency State Serum Institute (SSI).

“We are in a good place infection-wise because we have built up a strong system whereby we test a lot, can lockdown locally, have good behaviour in the population and have protected the weakest with vaccinations,” Ullum said.

“Having said that, we do have increasing infection rates, especially amongst younger people. So we must keep an eye out for infections spreading to groups who are still waiting to be vaccinated,” he continued.

“That includes their parents in the 40-55-year age group, who have a 2-4 percent chance of hospitalisation if they get infected,” the SSI director explained.

Ullum’s comments came after a parliamentary majority announced that coronavirus restrictions will be further lifted at the end of this week, with almost all businesses permitted to reopen along with education opening at normal capacity. Corona passports will still be required.

Updated data released later on Tuesday showed Denmark’s R-number or reproduction rate for the coronavirus at 1.1, meaning 10 infected people pass the virus on to 11 others. The epidemic is therefore currently increasing slightly.

A total of 916 new infections were registered in the latest daily update on Tuesday. That number comes from 173,133 PCR tests, giving a positivity rate of 0.53 percent. Denmark has 166 Covid-19 inpatients at hospitals nationally. That figure has remained stable throughout May.


Nightclubs and discotheques are the only businesses now awaiting permission to reopen to customers.

“Nightlife is the place where the risk of infection is greatest. You see many people getting close to each other, singing and drinking alcohol. There’s just a lot of infection when we meet in that way, even though a lot of us miss it,” Ullum said.

The decision to retain the corona passport will meanwhile act as an incentive to continue Denmark’s record of high testing rates, the SSI director said.

“Large scale testing, which we can support with the corona passport, has proven to be an effective way to manage and limit infections,” he said.


SSI also recommended to parliament that the current method of implementing small local lockdowns in individual parishes (sogne) be retained. The local lockdowns have received criticism after schools with no cases were forces to close due to their location within a parish with elevated case numbers.

“(The parish lockdowns) work well in two ways. The model has an effect in municipalities with increasing infections that are nearing lockdown [of the entire municipality, a larger area than a parish, ed.], because we then see municipalities and mayors make a great effort to brake infections,” Ullum said.

“At the same time, the local lockdowns have the effect of reducing social activity if infections are too high,” he added.

Throughout the pandemic, SSI has produced prognoses and modelling relating to how the lifting of restrictions will impact infection numbers. The actual outcomes have regularly been better than expectations.

That is due to an underestimation of the effectiveness local lockdowns and comprehensive testing, Ullum argued.

“We are significantly under the prognoses we made when we began reopening, even though infections are increasing. We are also significantly lower on hospitalisations,” he said.

“Large scale testing and local lockdowns have proven to be much more effective tools than our modelling tool account of and that’s why it’s gone better than the maths predicted,” he added.

Member comments

  1. I work in India for a large Danish company headquartered in Copenhagen. While i travel to Denmark often, The Local gives goof updates on whats going in Denmark and also have some good “virtual over the coffee” conversation with my danish colleagues. Recently one of my employees was supposed to travel to Denmark from India and your coverage on the Light system and constant coverage was really helpful. Well done team Local

    Satyarth from India

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Covid-19: European summer holidays threatened by rise of subvariants

A resurgence of Covid-19 cases in Europe, this time driven by new, fast-spreading Omicron subvariants, is once again threatening to disrupt people's summer plans.

Covid-19: European summer holidays threatened by rise of subvariants

Several Western European nations have recently recorded their highest daily case numbers in months, due in part to Omicron sub-variants BA.4 and BA.5.

The increase in cases has spurred calls for increased vigilance across a continent that has relaxed most if not all coronavirus restrictions.

The first resurgence came in May in Portugal, where BA.5 propelled a wave that hit almost 30,000 cases a day at the beginning of June. That wave has since started to subside, however.

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS: German Health Ministry lays out autumn Covid plan

Italy recorded more than 62,700 cases on Tuesday, nearly doubling the number from the previous week, the health ministry said. 

Germany meanwhile reported more than 122,000 cases on Tuesday. 

France recorded over 95,000 cases on Tuesday, its highest daily number since late April, representing a 45-percent increase in just a week.

Austria this Wednesday recorded more than 10,000 for the first time since April.

READ ALSO: Italy’s transport mask rule extended to September as Covid rate rises

Cases have also surged in Britain, where there has been a seven-fold increase in Omicron reinfection, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The ONS blamed the rise on the BA.4 and BA.5 variants, but also said Covid fell to the sixth most common cause of death in May, accounting for 3.3 percent of all deaths in England and Wales.

BA.5 ‘taking over’

Mircea Sofonea, an epidemiologist at the University of Montpellier, said Covid’s European summer wave could be explained by two factors.

READ ALSO: 11,000 new cases: Will Austria reintroduce restrictions as infection numbers rise?

One is declining immunity, because “the protection conferred by an infection or a vaccine dose decreases in time,” he told AFP.

The other came down to the new subvariants BA.4 and particularly BA.5, which are spreading more quickly because they appear to be both more contagious and better able to escape immunity.

Olivier Schwartz, head of the virus and immunity unit at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, said BA.5 was “taking over” because it is 10 percent more contagious than BA.2.

“We are faced with a continuous evolution of the virus, which encounters people who already have antibodies — because they have been previously infected or vaccinated — and then must find a selective advantage to be able to sneak in,” he said.

READ ALSO: Tourists: What to do if you test positive for Covid in France

But are the new subvariants more severe?

“Based on limited data, there is no evidence of BA.4 and BA.5 being associated with increased infection severity compared to the circulating variants BA.1 and BA.2,” the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) said last week.

But rising cases can result in increasing hospitalisations and deaths, the ECDC warned.

Could masks be making a comeback over summer? (Photo by OSCAR DEL POZO / AFP)

Alain Fischer, who coordinates France’s pandemic vaccine strategy, warned that the country’s hospitalisations had begun to rise, which would likely lead to more intensive care admissions and eventually more deaths.

However, in Germany, virologist Klaus Stohr told the ZDF channel that “nothing dramatic will happen in the intensive care units in hospitals”.

Return of the mask? 

The ECDC called on European countries to “remain vigilant” by maintaining testing and surveillance systems.

“It is expected that additional booster doses will be needed for those groups most at risk of severe disease, in anticipation of future waves,” it added.

Faced with rising cases, last week Italy’s government chose to extend a requirement to wear medical grade FFP2 masks on public transport until September 30.

“I want to continue to recommend protecting yourself by getting a second booster shot,” said Italy’s Health Minister Roberto Speranza, who recently tested positive for Covid.

READ ALSO: Spain to offer fourth Covid-19 vaccine dose to ‘entire population’

Fischer said France had “clearly insufficient vaccination rates” and that a second booster shot was needed.

Germany’s government is waiting on expert advice on June 30 to decide whether to reimpose mandatory mask-wearing rules indoors.

The chairman of the World Medical Association, German doctor Frank Ulrich Montgomery, has recommended a “toolbox” against the Covid wave that includes mask-wearing, vaccination and limiting the number of contacts.