Sunday, September 19

How Denmark is back to normal post-COVID

Danish society has returned to the old normality: on September 10, the Scandinavian country became one of the first in the European Union to lift all restrictions to deal with the pandemic. It was 548 days after the Prime Minister, Mette Frederiksen, announced at a press conference the closure of schools, bars, restaurants and recommended teleworking; now, masks, capacity limits and the need to show the COVID passport are a thing of the past in Copenhagen.

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With a vaccination rate with the full schedule that exceeds the 80% among people over 12 years of age and 75% of the total population, Health Minister Magnus Heunicke assured in early August that “the epidemic was under control” since, taking into account vaccination levels, the virus no longer represented “a critical disease for society.” In fact, the restrictions have been lifted three weeks ahead of schedule, when the country currently registers 54 new cases per 100,000 inhabitants in the last seven days and the numbers of hospitalizations remain stable, but far from the health collapse, with a figure of 117 admitted for COVID in a country of 5.8 million inhabitants, according to the latest data.

The incidence and vaccination data are very similar to those of Spain today, but Denmark has a long history of doing much more testing.

World leader in testing

Denmark was one of the EU countries that reacted the fastest to the progression of the disease, with the application of restrictions in March 2020 that, however, never included the confinement of the population or the use of masks in outdoor spaces.

Since last April 21, the Scandinavian country was also one of the first to reopen society progressively thanks to the use of the vaccination passport. The executive led by Frederiksen then agreed on a de-escalation plan that included the use of this certificate to ensure that citizens were immunized (for having passed the disease or having received the vaccine). Otherwise, they had to show an antigen test or PCR performed within the last 72 hours. Since then, the passport, which is obtained by downloading an application on the mobile, has been necessary to access hairdressers, gyms, cinemas, theaters, bars or restaurants.

“When the crown passport was put into operation, vaccination rates in Denmark did not exceed 10% of the population,” explains Professor and researcher at the University of Roskilde, Viggo Andreasen. “The crown passport was developed together with the strategy of creating an extensive infrastructure of test centers accessible to all citizens free of charge, and covering the entire territory,” he says.

The move saw Denmark become the country with the highest COVID-19 test rate per capita in the world, with the capacity to do more than half a million antigen tests and PCR tests per day, representing around 10% of the population every 24 hours and 30% every 72. It has also been a leader in Europe in the detection and tracking of variants.

“The crown passport was introduced as an alternative to the restrictions that affected us and in the end it turned out to be much more successful than we expected,” says researcher Andreasen. “We knew that COVID testing did not completely reduce the risk that a person was infected, but there was at least a 50% chance that they would not be when they went to a restaurant or participated in another social activity,” he explains.

Broad social consensus

Jan Koch runs a hairdresser in one of the streets adjacent to the central Nørreport square, in the heart of the Danish capital. Just 200 meters from your business, last April one of the 650 public centers where you can test for the virus was built. “The crown passport is a small inconvenience compared to having the business closed,” he explains. “Last spring, people took two or three tests a week to get the crown passport, but now it is no longer necessary because almost everyone is vaccinated,” says Koch.

Continuing down the same street, in one of the most popular wineries in the city, Frederik serves a few draft beers in an interior filled with cigarette smoke and customers. “We have not had any problem in requesting the crown passport, but I am happy that it is no longer necessary,” he says. “We Danes pay attention to what they tell us, I think people feel quite safe about the pandemic.”

For Flemming Konradsen, an expert in global health at the University of Copenhagen, this social consensus about the crown passport “has been one of the keys to the success of the measure.” “In other countries the passport is now seen as a limitation, but for us it has been the way to return little by little to normality,” he explains.

The Social Democratic Executive approved the legislation with the support of all the parties of the parliamentary arch except the extreme right. However, the high cost of the strategy of conducting massive free tests raised criticism from the opposition, which according to the newspaper’s information Berlingske, It would have cost the government 270 million euros a week.

“Cases will skyrocket”

With the certainty of having been able to avoid a third wave of infections for the moment, uncertainty in Denmark now centers on knowing what will happen when autumn arrives and social activity moves inland. On August 1, the COVID passport was no longer used in spaces such as museums or libraries and since September 1 it is no longer a necessary requirement to access the interior of bars and restaurants. In the hospitality sector, since June 1, masks have not been used indoors either, as in public transport or in supermarkets and stores.

“With the spread of the delta variant, the challenge is to vaccinate 90% of the population,” explains Flemming. “There is no doubt that with the arrival of bad weather, cases will skyrocket, especially in kindergartens and primary schools, but since most infections now occur among children and young people, the severity of the disease has decreased. significantly, “he explains.

“In the coming months we will have to live with higher levels of infection,” he says. “In particular, I would like the corona passport to still be necessary at nightclubs and larger events like concerts,” says Flemming. “The restrictions have been lifted, but the pandemic is not over, I hope that in the future we will have the same agility to apply rapid measures as we have done before.”

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