Denmark COVID cases drop after restrictions end

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When Danish leaders saw COVID-19 infection rates reach record highs earlier this year, instead of tightening restrictions, they lifted them. Three weeks later, the situation has so far remained stable, with the number of patients admitted to hospital intensive care due to COVID declining steadily throughout February.

Denmark was the first country in the EU, and one of the first in the world, to drop almost all COVID restrictions. Danes no longer have to wear masks indoors or worry about limits on crowd sizes.

The rules changed on February 1, when Denmark recorded around 50,000 new cases a day – a record in a country of just 5.8 million people.

Many people in Copenhagen no longer wear face masks outside.

The decision raised eyebrows around the world, but early data suggests it has not led to an increase in cases.

By the end of February, the country was reporting about 30,000 new infections every day. This represents a drop of almost 50% from the start of the month, although this is also partly due to the drop in testing activity.

Authorities say the steep drop is evidence that the population is heading towards what is known as hybrid immunity – an immune response elicited from a combination of natural infection and vaccines.

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Covid is no longer “socially critical”

Denmark has one of the highest vaccination rates in Europe. More than 80% of the population has received at least two vaccines. Among the elderly, the rate is well over 90%. And since the variant sweeping the country is the highly infectious but less severe omicron strain BA.2, the number of people in intensive care units has actually decreased during the recent outbreak – a major factor behind the government’s decision. to declare that COVID-19 is no longer a “socially critical disease”.

More than 80% of Danes are double vaccinated.

Under Danish law, the government can only impose restrictions once it has classified a virus as a threat to societal functions. According to Henrick Ullum, CEO of the government-affiliated Statens Serum Institut, there was no longer any justification for the designation.

“On the legal side of things, it was assessed that you couldn’t really say that with good immunity and with a milder variant, that Covid-19 threatened our society,” he says.

Public support

The Danish public seems to agree that dropping the restrictions was the right decision.

Just 28% of more than 1,000 people polled in a recent poll for public news channel TV2 said they were “concerned” about the change, while more than 60% thought it was safe.

Most of those interviewed by NHK said they supported the government’s approach.

“So far they seem to be right, and they’re very open about why they’re doing different things, so yeah, I would absolutely say I trust them,” says Mikkel Gjøl, a graphics programmer and father of two.

Mikkel Gjøl supports the government’s decision to lift most restrictions.

At the International School in Copenhagen, principal Sandy Mackenzie said she has recorded around 400 COVID cases among staff and students so far this year, more than a third of the school population. But he says the high vaccination rate means he had a relatively mild effect.

“People recover very quickly, tending to have mild symptoms,” he says.

Credit the free tests

Denmark’s healthcare system has outperformed other countries partly because of widespread free testing and rapid results. Graphics programmer Gjøl says his family of four have taken around 180 COVID tests (PCR and rapid antigen) in the past year.

But mandatory testing is one of the rules that has been dropped. Lone Simonsen, a professor of epidemiology at Roskilde University, says some people may feel uneasy about it, but she argues it’s an inevitable step in progressing out of the pandemic phase. , and something that society should adapt to.

“If you have flu-like illness, you’ll probably be told to stay home and you’ll never know,” she says. “Very few people would get tested for that. It’s kind of normal. It was abnormal that we knew everyone had COVID at all times.”

But Simonsen warns that COVID still poses some risk to Danish society. “If I had one concern left, it would be the elderly,” she says. “Only 10% of them are known to have been infected with Omicron, and we don’t know what that means.”

Denmark’s healthcare system outperforms other countries in part because of widespread free testing and rapid results.

One of the latest COVID-related rules in Denmark is that all senior care home staff must take a PCR test at least once a week and visitors must present proof of a negative test before arriving. .

For any country, changing people’s perception of COVID – from a “socially critical disease” that forces people to adjust their behavior, to a relatively mild disease similar to seasonal flu – requires a broad level of public trust. Danish officials say the easing of restrictions doesn’t mean they can’t respond to threats that may lie in wait.

“If a new, more infectious variant or a more dangerous variant arises, we will react accordingly,” says Ullum of the Statens Serum Institut.

With growing pressure to ease restrictions elsewhere, governments will be watching Denmark closely to see if the strategy will bear fruit.

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