Opinion

How We Dealt with Coronavirus: Denmark

Coronavirus-CDC

Denmark’s management of Covid-19 was to lockdown early. Let’s hear from its state epidemiologist KÅRE MØLBAK and resident MICHAEL BOOTH…


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Kåre Mølbak

Denmark’s State Epidemiologist


Denmark is “very unlikely” to be hit by a second wave of coronavirus, says Kare Molbak. Denmark, which had under six hundred coronavirus-related deaths, was the first in Europe to relax its coronavirus lockdown a month ago. The infection rate and the number of deaths have continued to drop. “With the knowledge we have today, I find it very unlikely that we’ll see second wave,” he explains.

As part of a broader plan to prevent a second wave of the coronavirus, the government said it would further increase test capacity currently at 20,000 tests per day. To prevent a second wave, health authorities will begin more actively tracking people who may have been in contact with infected people and if necessary put some in isolation in empty hotels. Early in the outbreak, Denmark shied away from a comprehensive testing and tracing scheme, partly due to a shortage of testing kits, despite calls from the World Health Organisation to ramp up testing.


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Michael Booth

Author, journalist and resident of Denmark


It’s as if a switch has been thrown. Denmark has sprung to life. The R number has fallen and Copenhageners are going about their business with the air of amnesiacs waking from a nightmare. We still do that little ‘shall we bump elbows or touch heels?’ jig, but otherwise public life has returned to normal remarkably quickly. Denmark has had an enviable pandemic. On 11th March, with a noticeable wobble in her voice, prime minister Mette Frederiksen announced one of the earliest European lockdowns. Instead of panic buying, the Danes (who are keen bakers) ensured that fresh yeast sold out instantly. As a result, sourdough is a de rigeur starter these days. This country of 5.8 million has kept Covid-19 deaths to just 561. Frederiksen’s ratings soared, her opponents stood supportively by, like a Greek chorus.

The phased reopening of Denmark began with schools in mid-April, but restaurants, cafés and bars opened on 24th May. I wondered whether everyone would emerge timidly, blinking in the daylight, like rescue animals released back to the wild. But they more resemble the dairy cows, who have also been let out from their winter incarceration, bucking and mooing with joy. We have a rat in our chicken house and the rat man came to leave some slow acting poison. ‘Why slow acting?’ I asked. He said they send the young in first, see if the die and, if they don’t, they eat it. When I sent my youngest back to school, I thought about the rats sending their young to check for poison. Then I went to play his drum kit.

The Swedes are offended that Denmark won’t open its borders. There’s a sense here that we have conquered the virus, but our neighbours aren’t quite there yet. Other than the feat of the virus itself, the most galling thing for thee Danes is watching the old enemy across the water continuing to frequent their bars and restaurants as if there were no tomorrow. But, of course, for almost five thousand Swedes, there will be no tomorrow. Their population is double Denmark’s, but their death toll runs seven times higher. For Danes, watching the sanctimonious Swedes unlocked has aroused some cognitive dissonance. Initially, there was a touch of ‘wish we’d thought of that’ when it came to herd immunity but, while the Swedes sipped lattes nervously, the Danes returned home and turned up hygge. One of the key features of Denmark’s koronahygge has been the daily Morgensang: a singalong on Denmark’s primary television channel, DR1. The show is hosted by Phillip Faber, Denmark’s answer to Gareth Malone, who’s become the breakout star of lockdown.

The last time I ate at Noma I had a pine cone for 2,600 DKK (£320) a head. Now the previous ‘world’s best restaurant’ has reopened as a burger joint. Their burgers cost 126 DKK (£15)… a little pricier than a Big Mac, but the beef was exceptional – rare, juicy, obscenely tasty – and served in a potato-based bun. I tweeted a picture of me eating it. A friend in London (a restaurant critic) tweeted back: ‘I never liked you.’ Now I’m researching an article about kolonihave. They’re a bit like allotments, but instead of bothering with vegetable growing, Danes escape their to drink Tuborg and grill sausages. At one kolonihave I chatted to an electrician, a care assistant and a costume designer for Hugh Grant and Nicole Kidman. Once a week they gather together and make dinner.


KÅRE MØLBAK is Denmark’s Chief Epidemiologist. 

MICHAEL BOOTH is an author and journalist.


For the latest Nordic news, follow @FikaOnlineBlog on Twitter.


Extracts of this article have also been published in The Times and The New York Times.


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