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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Covid-19: Danish case numbers fall by almost one fifth

Fewer new cases of Covid-19 were recorded in Denmark, with last week’s total 19 percent reduced compared to the week before.

Covid-19: Danish case numbers fall by almost one fifth

The latest report from the State Serum Institute (SSI), the Danish infectious disease agency, states 10,777 new cases were detected in the week commencing July 25th, equivalent to 183 cases per 100,000 residents.

The number of PCR tests administered also decreased 15 percent compared to the preceding week, however.

Declining viral loads in the wastewater system also suggest there’s a lower burden of infection in the country, according to SSI.

In the same period, new Covid-positive hospital admissions fell nearly a quarter, with a significant decline in the elderly population. 

There was also a significantly lower prevalence of infections among care home residents and social care sector staff, SSI states.

Last month, age concern charity Ældre Sagen called for the Danish Health Authority to bring forward planned booster vaccinations to care home residents after a 29 percent increase in new hospital admissions with the virus, with 60-89 year-olds particularly affected.

Booster vaccinations will be offered to everyone aged 50 and over this autumn.

READ ALSO: Who is eligible for a fourth Covid vaccine dose in Denmark and when?

60 deaths among people who were infected with Covid-19 occurred last week, 10 more than the preceding week.

“But this is not a sign of excess deaths in the population in general,” SSI says in the report.

Omicron sub-variant BA.5 is still responsible for the lion’s share of Covid cases in Denmark, accounting for 92 percent of positive results in the week of July 18th. 

“There is no sign of concerning spread of other subvariants,” SSI writes.