Covid-19: Denmark to offer screening tests to younger children as kids’ cases soar

Amid spiralling Covid-19 cases in children, Denmark’s Ministry of Health said on Thursday it would extend weekly coronavirus screening tests to be offered at the grade 1 age group and up.

Denmark is to extend school Covid-19 screening to younger children as cases numbers at schools soar.
Denmark is to extend school Covid-19 screening to younger children as cases numbers at schools soar.File photo: Ólafur Steinar Gestsson/Ritzau Scanpix

The decision to offer Covid screening to first graders and older children was made based on recommendations from health authorities and the current infection situation in Denmark, the ministry said in a press release.

“The virus is unfortunately prominent at schools and is spreading amongst children. Fortunately, children are rarely hard-hit by corona, but they can still initiate infection chains,” Health Minister Magnus Heunicke said in the statement.

Such infection clusters can “end by reaching elderly and vulnerable members of society”.

“Screening tests down to grade 1 will be a valuable tool to catch infections and can help to put a stop to them,” the minister added.

Previously, screening has begun at grade 3, or age 9 years and above.

Screening tests are now recommended twice a week for staff and children at schools if they are unvaccinated or have not been infected with the coronavirus within the last six months.

Denmark offers Covid-19 vaccination to children aged 12 and above.

Children younger than first grade – in other words, kindergarten and pre-school children aged 3 years and above – should be tested on the same day and the fourth and sixth day after a potential close contact with the virus if they do not have symptoms, according to ministry guidelines. This recommendation is unchanged from earlier practice.

Covid-19 infection levels amongst school children have reached record levels for the pandemic for the third consecutive week, according to data released on Thursday by the national infectious disease agency State Serum Institute (SSI).

READ ALSO: Danish parliament likely to back return of face masks

Last week saw 1,328 infections per 100,000 in the 6-11 years age group.

Although Covid-19 infections remain at a high level throughout society, SSI said that the virus is “clearly” most prevalent in children currently.

“Infections amongst 6-11 year-olds are helping drive the pandemic right now, and many large outbreaks are still being reported at schools,” SSI departmental medical advisor Rebecca Legarth said in a statement.

The 6-11 age group is not offered a vaccination under the Danish Covid vaccination programme.

“Generally, incidence is increasing right now in all age groups regardless of whether they are vaccinated or not. But there’s no doubt that infection is at a higher level amongst the unvaccinated,” Legarth also said.

The EU’s drug agency EMA on Thursday cleared Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine for use in children aged five to 11, the first jab to be approved for the cohort.

This means the EU Commission will now likely approve the vaccine for children aged 5 to 11 but the ultimate decision over whether to roll out the Covid jab to young kids will rest on the governments of each member state, including Denmark.

READ ALSO: EU approves first Covid jab for children aged 5 to 11

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Denmark’s infectious disease agency does not recommend Covid tests for China arrivals

Travellers from China should not need a negative Covid-19 test when arriving in Denmark, the national infectious disease control agency State Serum Institute recommended on Saturday, in an assessment sent to the Ministry of Health.

Denmark's infectious disease agency does not recommend Covid tests for China arrivals

In the assessment by the State Serum Institute (SSI), it was noted that there aren’t expected to be a large number of arrivals coming directly from China and that any tests would have a marginal affect on Danish epidemic control.

However SSI wrote that it was still important to keep an eye on new variants of Covid-19 and suggested that a sample of voluntary-based PCR tests could be introduced for travellers from China.

The assessment was requested by Denmark’s health minister Sophie Løhde, following a recommendation on Wednesday by European Union experts to tighten travel rules.

Infection rates in China are high after it abolished its ‘zero Covid’ policy in late 2022, although no precise numbers are available.

Several European countries, including France, Spain, Italy and the UK, had already introduced testing requirements, while Sweden on Thursday announced a similar step, as did Germany, with an added announcement on Saturday to discourage non-essential travel from Germany to China.

The United States, Canada, India, South Korea and Taiwan have also put testing rules in place.

Health minister Sophie Løhde also asked SSI to assess testing waste water from aircraft landed from China. SSI responded that there is limited experience in this.

SSI currently analyses samples from shared toilet tanks at four airports twice a week – Copenhagen, Aarhus, Aalborg and Billund. The method would have to be changed in order to detect new Covid-19 variants, which would take up to four weeks to implement, according to the assessment.

Løhde has informed the parliamentary parties about the assessment and has asked the Epidemic Commission for an advisory assessment, she said in a press release. Once this is done, the recommendations will be discussed.