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COVID-19 RULES

Denmark returns to ‘life as we knew it’ as Covid-19 restrictions end despite Omicron

Denmark on Tuesday became the first European Union country to lift all of its Covid restrictions despite record numbers of cases, relying on its high vaccination rate to cope with the milder Omicron variant.

Shopping without a face mask - like in this 2019 file photo - returns to Denmark on February 1st 2022 as Covid-19 restrictions end.
Shopping without a face mask - like in this 2019 file photo - returns to Denmark on February 1st 2022 as Covid-19 restrictions end. Photo: Asger Ladefoged/Ritzau Scanpix

After a first attempt at lifting all its restrictions between September and November, the Scandinavian country is once again ditching its face masks, Covid passes and limited opening hours for bars and restaurants.

“I’m so happy that this is all going to be over tomorrow. It’s good for life in the city, for nightlife, just to be able to be out longer”, 17-year-old student Thea Skovgaard told AFP the day before the lifting.

Nightclubs reopen on Tuesday, when limits on the number of people allowed at indoor gatherings also come to an end.

Only a few restrictions remain in place at the country’s borders, for unvaccinated travellers arriving from non-Schengen countries.

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS: What changes about life in Denmark in February 2022?

The easing comes as Denmark registers around 40,000-50,000 new Covid cases a day, or almost one percent of the country’s 5.8 million inhabitants.

“We have an extremely high coverage of adults vaccinated with three doses,” epidemiologist Lone Simonsen of the University of Roskilde told AFP.

More than 60 percent of Danes have received a third dose — one month ahead of health authorities’ schedule — compared to an EU average of just under 45 percent.

Including those who have recently had Covid, health authorities estimate that 80 percent of the population are protected against severe forms of the disease.

“With Omicron not being a severe disease for the vaccinated, we believe it is reasonable to lift restrictions”, Simonsen said.

The broad spread of the Omicron variant is also expected to lead to a “more robust and long-lasting immunity”, helping the country fend off future waves, she said.

Two years after the outbreak of Covid-19, the Danish strategy enjoys broad support at home.

In a poll published Monday by daily Politiken, 64 percent of Danes surveyed said they had faith in the government’s Covid policy.

Going forward, Danes are being urged to exercise personal responsibility, Simonsen said.

“Without a Covid pass there will be a shift of responsibility”, she said.

Danes have increasingly used home tests to detect infection, but these are now being phased out and instead, anyone with symptoms is advised to stay home.

The Danish Health Authority currently “recommends” those who test positive to isolate for four days, while contact cases no longer need to quarantine.

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Face masks and the Covid pass are also recommended for hospital visits.

The government said it does not expect to have to revert to new closures again but has remained cautiously optimistic.

“We can’t provide any guarantees when it comes to biology”, Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said last week when announcing the country’s return “to life as we knew it before corona”.

“It’s really nice that this is ending but will we really live without any restrictions now? I doubt it,” said Cille Hjort, a fast-food vendor eager to see her patrons’ faces without masks again.

This is the second time Denmark has tried to return to a pre-pandemic lifestyle.

On September 10th, the country lifted all its restrictions, before reintroducing some of them in early November.

Museums, cinemas and theatre and concert venues then closed just before Christmas, and reopened again in early January.

Faced with a lower level of hospitalisations than in previous waves, several European countries, including France, Ireland and the United Kingdom, have announced the lifting or a considerable reduction of their restrictions, despite record or very high cases.

“Two years into the pandemic, populations in most countries have reached high levels of immunity, from vaccines or natural illness”, Simonsen said.

“This is how it ends, judging from what we have seen with historical pandemics”.

According to the World Health Organization, 73 percent of the European population has contracted Covid-19 at least once since January 2020.

Tyra Krause of Denmark’s public health and research institution SSI said meanwhile she expected Covid-19 to return in regular waves, “like the flu”.

“We may end up having to vaccinate risk groups ahead of the autumn to prevent severe cases”, she told science magazine Videnskab.

READ ALSO: Denmark to drop Covid-19 travel restrictions for vaccinated persons

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COVID-19 VACCINES

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

Public health officials in Denmark say a low turnout for the second round of Covid booster shots — for most people, their fourth jab — has made them concerned that many don’t realise they’re eligible.

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

 Danish authorities have hardly clear on whether to offer fourth Covid jabs and to whom, since the beginning of 2022.

In January, the government announced that fourth shots would be given to the very elderly and other high risk populations— but that decision was reversed just four weeks later and the fourth Covid dose program was ended.

At a June 22nd press conference, Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen announced plans for a more general booster program in the autumn and added that the ‘particularly vulnerable’ would be eligible for new doses the following week. 

When the Covid vaccination program began in early 2021, Denmark estimated the number of ‘selected patients with particularly increased risk’ that should be prioritised for vaccination at 240,000. But in the month since Frederiksen’s announcement, only about 3,500 people have come in for a fourth jab. Experts say that’s in no small part over confusion as to who is ‘particularly vulnerable.’

Indeed, the Danish Health Authority website doesn’t appear to currently provide a list of conditions that qualify for a second booster and instead refers readers to their primary care provider. That’s unfortunate since even general practitioners are finding it hard to determine who the rules say can get a fourth shot, Danish broadcaster DR reports.

The failure to resolve the issue is putting many patients at risk, some public health experts worry. “With the spread we are seeing with Covid at the moment, I think the Health Authority needs to be very clear about who should get the fourth prick now and who should wait,” Torben Mogensen, chairman of the Lung Association, told DR. 

READ ALSO: Danish health minister says further Covid-19 vaccinations could ward off restriction

What we know for sure 

  • Pregnant and breastfeeding women are already eligible for fourth doses
  • People with suppressed immune systems are already eligible 
  • Approximately September 15: fourth doses begin for people in care homes and among ‘particularly vulnerable’ elderly people 
  • October 1st: fourth doses begin for everyone 50 years of age and and over 

Your primary care provider (the one on your yellow card) can refer you for a vaccination appointment, as can doctors at hospitals. 

What factors will your doctor consider? 

Guidelines provided to doctors by the Danish Health Authority ask them to weigh the patient’s age, risk of serious course of illness if infected, their presumed immunity status based on recent infection, and their overall risk of infection based on their living conditions (strangely, crowded living conditions and living in a sparsely populated area both suggest you may need a booster shot). 

…and now for the riddles

In lieu of a list of conditions that might qualify a patient for an early fourth shot, doctors have been offered a series of ‘example patients’ that are eligible for a booster  under the new rules. 

  • 45-year-old woman with reduced immune system due to haematological cancer
  • 74-year-old man with severe obesity and heart failure, who has had recurring lower respiratory tract infections for the past six months and declining functional level
  • 65-year-old woman with severe obesity and diabetes with serious co-morbidities, e.g foot ulcers or chronic kidney failure
  • 82-year-old woman with rapid onset of functional loss (e.g. failing memory, reduced mobility and need for help with personal care) and beginning signs of malnutrition (eats too little, does not gain weight)
  • 23-year-old with cystic fibrosis with frequent pneumonia and hospitalisations
  • 50-year-old male with bowel cancer who has recently completed chemotherapy
  • 85-year-old man who lives with his children and grandchildren in a small home
  • 65-year-old woman who has been operated on for breast cancer and has diabetes, and who needs to travel to an area with high infection
  • 39-year-old resident of a social psychiatric residence, with heavy tobacco consumption, occasional alcohol overconsumption, overweight and in treatment with many different drugs

READ ALSO: Danish hospitals see rise in number of Covid patients 

It’s worth a call or message 

With a particularly nasty flu season on the horizon, public health experts say it’s worth a call, email, or message to your primary care provider if you have any reason to suspect you might be eligible for vaccination. 

“We know that infection rates have been rising both in Denmark and in Europe in recent weeks, and a new variant is on its way in,” Aarhus University professor emeritus of infectious diseases told DR.  “Then comes autumn, when we know that a respiratory virus spreads more than it does in summer. So there’s every reason to get that fourth jab if you’re in the vulnerable groups and it’s been more than six months since you had your third.” 

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