Denmark

Omicron Variant Spreads to Denmark And The Netherlands – And Could Lead to Restrictions Tightening in Europe

Denmark has recorded just two cases of the Omicron variant so far, with the Netherlands reporting 13; both nations found that all carriers of the new variant recently arrived from southern Africa. The Dutch Health Minister said that he expects more cases to rapidly appear within the country, with the Danish health authorities also actively monitoring its spread. Meanwhile, the U.K. is introducing new measures to directly tackle the variant, whereas elsewhere in Europe, various nations imposed lockdown restrictions in response to a sharp increase in Covid cases before the Omicron variant landed on the Continent, and could expand the restrictions further still. The Express has the story.

With large parts of Europe, including Austria, Germany and potentially France, already vying to ramp up restrictions in response to a recent increase in non-Omicron Covid cases, eyes will now be on leaders to see how they choose to respond to the emerging variant. But numerous health officials have played down fears of the variant and two of the world’s largest Covid vaccine producers have said they will be able to “very quickly” update their jabs “if they need to”.

The latest European countries to report Omicron Covid variant infections are the Netherlands and Denmark.

Dutch health authorities announced that 13 cases of the variant were reported among passengers who arrived in Amsterdam on Friday on two flights from South Africa.

This was out of a total of 600 passengers, 61 of whom tested positive for Covid.

Health Minister Hugo de Jonge said: “It is not unlikely more cases will appear in the Netherlands.

This could possibly be the tip of the iceberg.”

Denmark also announced two cases of the variant on Sunday.

Both people who were found to have been infected by the variant had travelling from South Africa.

In response, Director of the State Serum Institute Henrik Ullum, quoted in Reuters, said: “This was to be expected, and our strategy is therefore to continue intensive monitoring of the infection in the country.”

Beyond Europe, health officials in Australia have reported two cases of the variant in people who had arrived in the country from southern Africa.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson led a press conference on Saturday afternoon after two Omicron cases were reported in Britain.

He said that “we simply don’t yet know enough” about the variant, but insisted that a “precautionary approach” must be taken against it.

This includes the reintroduction of face mask mandates and the tightening up of travel restrictions.

All people who travel to Britain must now self-isolate until a PCR tests shows they are Covid negative, even if they are displaying no Covid symptoms.

Worth reading in full.

Covid Infections Surge in Europe

A late autumn surge in reported Covid infections is underway in Europe, with spikes in Austria, Netherlands, Denmark, Germany, Switzerland and Norway, and the possible beginnings of one in France, Portugal and Italy. This is despite high vaccine coverage and the heavy use of vaccine passports in most of these countries including Germany, Netherlands, Austria, Switzerland, Italy and France.

Some of this is at least partly a result of ramping up testing, especially in Austria and Denmark.

Denmark’s positive test rate is currently flat (see below). This is despite the country declaring the pandemic over and abandoning vaccine passports in September. However, due to the climbing reported infection rate, the country’s Parliament is now said to be preparing to return to a state of emergency and reactivate the vaccine pass scheme, despite the rise being so far largely an artefact of increased testing.

Elsewhere, however, the positive rate is also rising, suggesting real Covid and not just a testing artefact.

Did Denmark Achieve Focused Protection in the Second Wave?

Before the vaccines arrived, lockdown proponents argued that the only way to prevent large numbers of Covid deaths was by completely suppressing viral transmission. A focused protection strategy, they maintained, was just not workable.

The basic argument is as follows. Because the virus is so transmissible, and society is so interconnected, it would have been impossible to protect vulnerable people if we’d allowed community transmission to proceed unchecked. Without a lockdown, the virus would inevitably have found its way into hospitals and care homes, leading to lots of deaths.

It’s not an unreasonable argument, but I don’t buy it. (And let’s put aside the fact that even if lockdown does prevent more Covid deaths than focused protection, the total costs almost certainly outweigh the benefits.)

We already know that places like Utah, Sweden and South Dakota, which refused to lock down last year, did not do substantially worse than places that did lock down. We can argue about exactly how to do the comparison; the fact is that none of the dire predictions made for these locations actually came to pass.  

But is there an example of a country that achieved focused protection? Denmark might well be the closest. If we zoom-in on the second wave, and compare the country’s infection rate to that of the U.K., it isn’t dramatically lower:

Assuming the numbers are indeed comparable (which I’ll admit is a big assumption), Denmark saw 30% fewer infections between August of 2020 and May of 2021. Denmark did do more testing over this time period, but the U.K. had a higher share of positive tests.

If the lockdowners’ argument against focused protection is right, we’d expect Denmark to have had only 30% fewer deaths than the U.K. during the second wave; or at most, perhaps 50% fewer. After all, the country’s infection rate peaked at over 600 per million.

But this isn’t what we find. According to Karlinsky and Kobak, Denmark has had only 1% excess mortality since the pandemic began; the U.K.’s figure, by contrast, is 20%.

Now, more than half of Britain’s excess mortality was sustained in the first wave (which Denmark managed to avoid). But suppose that eight percentage points of the 20% were sustained in the second wave.

This would mean that Denmark’s deaths were not 30% or 50% lower than the U.K.’s, but almost 90% lower. Despite experiencing a moderately high infection rate in the winter, Denmark managed to keep deaths to a minimum.

Note: I’m not suggesting the country didn’t lock down; it did. (Though there was never a stay-at-home order, and the average stringency index was much lower than in Britain). My point is that some degree of focused protection apparently is achievable. There’s no necessary relationship between the infection rate and the death toll.

It doesn’t follow that Britain could have done as well as Denmark, which tends to finish at the top of every international league table. But with a bit of ingenuity, we could have done better than we did – in terms of both lives saved and collateral damage avoided.

The recent House of Commons report described the U.K.’s initial approach as “fatalistic”. But what was really fatalistic was assuming the only way to stop people dying of Covid was shuttering the economy and throwing civil liberties out the window.    

Why isn’t This Simple Step to Reduce the Risk of Blood Clots After Vaccination Not Followed?

There follows a guest post by Daily Sceptic reader Tim Cooper.

At the end of June the preprint of a paper was published, showing that accidentally injecting vaccine into a blood vessel, rather than into the muscle, could be a factor in the incidence of clotting events (VITT, etc.) associated with the AstraZeneca-type vaccines.

This concept has been mulled over in academic circles and on social media, But the issue has rather gone off the boil, possibly since these types of vaccine are not currently being widely used in developed countries (although they are still being used elsewhere).

It may be about to hot-up again though. A new paper has now been released which shows that a similar phenomenon could be associated with mRNA vaccines like Pfizer’s and Moderna’s and suggesting that faulty injection technique could be behind the adverse events.

According to Wikipedia, the purpose of intramuscular injection (as used for the Covid vaccines) “may be preferred because muscles have larger and more numerous blood vessels than subcutaneous tissue, leading to faster absorption”.

When delivering intramuscular injection, nurses are often trained to ‘aspirate’ the needle by pulling back on the plunger, with the absence of blood indicating that they haven’t hit a blood vessel. For some medicines, the product insert specifically states that “special care should be taken to prevent injection into a blood vessel”.

In general terms, though, no hard-and-fast rule exists about avoiding injection into blood vessels, because, some argue, there is no clear evidence that it matters either way – though NHS guidelines from 2006 recommended that aspiration should always be used in intramuscular injections.

Currently for Covid vaccines, U.K. health authorities do not insist on it, with Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi relying on Public Health England guidance to state that: “There is no need to pull back on the plunger … because there are no large blood vessels at the recommended injection sites.” (14:08)

In America, the CDC guidelines are frankly disturbing. They appear to acknowledge the issue by stating that if you aspirate and get a flash of blood, the process should be abandoned. But then they add: “This is a waste of expensive vaccine that could be avoided by simply not aspirating.” Ah, the close-your-eyes-and-pretend-it’s-not-there approach to vaccine safety.

Restrictions to Be Scrapped in Denmark as Covid No Longer “A Critical Threat to Society”

Lockdown restrictions are set to be lifted in Denmark by September 10th after health officials said Covid no longer poses “a critical threat” to the country. Health Minister Magnus Heunicke has, however, warned that the Government “will not hesitate to act quickly” if the situation becomes worse once again. MailOnline has the story.

More than 70% of Danes are fully vaccinated and the low levels of Covid in the country led the Health Minister on Friday to announce that the virus is now “under control”.

“The epidemic is under control, we have record vaccination levels. That is why, on September 10th, we can lift the special rules we had to introduce in the fight against Covid,” Health Minister Magnus Heunicke said.

However, he stressed that “the epidemic is not over” and said the Government “will not hesitate to act quickly if the pandemic once again threatens the essential functioning of society”.

Denmark was one of the first countries to introduce a partial lockdown in March 2020, shutting down schools and non-essential businesses and services.

It has relaxed and reinforced its measures throughout the pandemic, and in April introduced a ‘corona passport’ granting holders access to businesses like restaurants, cinemas, gyms and hair salons.

That requirement was already lifted in some places such as museums on August 1st, and masks have not been mandatory on public transport in Denmark since August 14th. 

A number of further restrictions are set to end on September 1th. From the start of the month, people will no longer be required to show a valid corona pass to sit in restaurants and bars, though a pass will still be required to enter nightclubs and other large events such as football matches until September 10th.

The change in the classification of Covid will not, however, affect rules on travel into Denmark, which are governed by a separate inter-party agreement which is due to expire in October, a spokesperson for the Health Ministry said.

Denmark has not seen more than five Covid-related deaths per day since February.  

Worth reading in full.

“We Have to Compare Sweden to Its Neighbours” Isn’t a Convincing Argument

In a recent post on Lockdown Sceptics, I argued that the case for lockdown basically collapsed in May of 2020, when Sweden’s epidemic began to retreat. Sweden was the only major Western country that didn’t lockdown in 2020, yet it saw age-adjusted excess mortality up to week 51 of just 1.7% – below the European average.

A common reply is that, although Sweden did better than the European average, it did worse than its neighbours. Here its neighbours are taken to be the other Nordic countries: Denmark, Norway, Finland and Iceland. Looking at age-adjusted excess mortality, it’s true that the other Nordics did better than Sweden. All four saw negative excess mortality up to week 51.

Does this mean lockdown sceptics are wrong to cite Sweden as evidence that the benefits of lockdowns are vastly overstated? No, I don’t believe it does.

First, the economist Daniel Klein and his colleagues have identified 15 different factors that may account for the higher death toll in Sweden as compared to the other Nordics. These include the greater number of frail elderly people alive at the start of 2020 (the ‘dry tinder’ effect); the larger immigrant population; and the lack of adequate protection for care home residents in the early weeks of the pandemic. 

Second, as the researcher Philippe Lemoine has pointed out, the epidemic was already more advanced in Sweden by the time most European countries introduced lockdowns and social distancing. The other Nordic countries therefore had a head start in responding to the deadly first wave. This is particularly important because, when the first wave struck, the best ways of treating COVID-19 were not yet well understood.

I would add that, with the exception of Denmark (which saw a moderate second wave), the other Nordics are small, geographically peripheral countries for which a containment strategy was actually workable. As I’ve noted in Quillette, all the Western countries that have managed to keep their COVID-19 death rates low (Norway, Cyprus, Australia, etc.) benefited from pre-existing geographical advantages. And all imposed strict border controls at the start (something the UK Government’s scientific advisers cautioned against).

Third, as the legal scholar Paul Yowell has argued, the Baltics (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania) are similar to the Nordics in terms of climate and population density, and once you include them in the comparison, Sweden no longer stands out. Lithuania actually had higher age-adjusted excess mortality than Sweden last year, despite imposing a strict winter lockdown.

Finally, as Yowell also points out, the ratio of Sweden’s COVID-19 death rate to Denmark’s isn’t that much higher than the ratio of Denmark’s to Finland’s. And this is despite the fact that Denmark has taken a more restrictive approach than Finland. One could therefore take the comparison between those two countries as evidence against the efficacy of lockdowns.

What’s more, this exercise could be repeated with other pairs or trios. For example, despite taking a slightly less restrictive approach than Spain and Italy, France has reported fewer deaths from COVID-19 (as well as lower excess mortality). Of course, these kinds of comparisons don’t tell us very much. But that’s the point. We shouldn’t only compare a country to its immediate neighbours.

And when researchers have analysed European countries and US states in a systematic way, they haven’t found evidence that lockdowns substantially reduce deaths from COVID-19.

Danish Vaccine Passport App “Will Cause Domino Effect” Across Europe

The Danish developers of a new Covid passport app say that its technology will cause a “domino effect” across Europe. The company is currently in talks with a number of European countries, possibly including the UK. Sky News has the story.

The company behind a Danish Covid passport app says its rollout will cause a “domino effect” across Europe.

Netcompany is developing an app which will be ready for use in Denmark by May.

It will show whether a person has been vaccinated against Covid as well as recent test results.

The firm’s Chief Executive Andre Rogaczewski said international interest in the technology is “very high”.

“We are talking to at least a dozen of countries, and most of them in Europe right now,” he told Sky News.

The UK could be among them, although no details have been confirmed. …

Denmark was the first country in Europe to confirm it will use digital passports.

Mr Rogaczewski said: “I think that’s going to start some sort of domino effect. We will see more countries in Europe following suit.”

There have been suggestions that the technology could be incorporated into the existing NHS Covid app.

Trials of vaccine passports are expected to begin in the UK next month at venues such as theatres and stadiums, despite growing opposition to the idea from MPs.

Sky News’ report is worth reading in full.

Models Fail to Predict the British Variant’s Decline

One reason that go-slow BoJo is taking his sweet time over lifting lockdown is to allow himself enough time (frankly, more than enough) to see the impact of each change before making the next.

A Covid surge was, naturally, predicted by Government scientific advisers when schools went back in March. Has that happened? Not even a ripple. In fact, since mass testing in schools began in early March the positive rate has hit a floor of 0.4% (presumably a lot to do with the false positive rate). Are any of these advisers embarrassed by their failed predictions that threatened the education of our children? If so, we’ve not heard.

To be fair, in February, SPI-M member Mark Woolhouse (one of the more heretical ones) told MPs he wasn’t expecting a surge as schools returned, since schools don’t drive the epidemic. “One of the stated reasons for keeping schools closed was to avoid some surge in cases when they open – that’s never happened across western Europe,” he said. Which begs the question: why were schools closed to “avoid some surge in cases when they open” if this has never happened? And why now are children subject to wearing masks all day and constant testing and having to self-isolate whenever they (or a classmate) gets a false positive? Is it all “just in case”?

Perhaps more significant, though, is that this no-show of a surge occurred despite the UK being dominated by the British Covid variant, as the graph below shows, which the Government says is more deadly and more contagious.

SARS-CoV-2 variant prevalence in UK – Kent variant in red (from CoVariant)

New ONS data published on Friday (see graph below) shows that new daily infections in the winter peaked around December 26th – 10 days before the lockdown on January 5th that we were told needed to be “tough enough” to contain the new mutant variant.

Denmark Remains “Uncertain” About Saftey of AstraZeneca Covid Vaccine

Denmark has extended its suspension of the AstraZeneca Covid vaccine for three weeks, while officials continue to investigate reports that it causes blood clots. The country initially halted its use of the vaccine on March 11th, along with a host of other countries which have since decided to resume their AZ jab rollouts following the European Medicines Agency’s announcement that it is “safe and effective”. Sky News has the story.

On March 11th, Denmark joined Norway, Austria, Italy and Iceland to suspend the use of the vaccine after reports of blood blots.

Originally the rollout of the coronavirus jab was paused for 14 days as a precautionary measure but Danish officials said on March 25th that this has been extended by three weeks as they conducted their own investigations. …

“Right now, we believe that our basis for making a final decision on the further use of the Covid vaccine by AstraZeneca is too uncertain,” Soeren Brostroem, head of the Danish Health Agency, said.

He said: “Many studies have been launched, but we do not yet have any conclusions. That is why we have decided to extend the break.”

Hesitancy remains due to suspicion that the AZ jab may be linked to “very rare blood clot cases”.

The Danish Health and Medicines Authority took the decision to stop using the jab after reports that a 60 year-old woman died with blood clots in several parts of her body a week after she received the vaccine.

A second person died in Demark after getting the jab, but health authorities said that they have no evidence the vaccine was responsible for either death.

The decision “was made on the basis of presumed side effects”, Tanja Erichsen of the Danish Medicines Agency said.

“I would like to emphasise that I am not talking about ordinary blood clots,” Ms Erichsen said.

“It is not about blood clots in the arms, legs and lungs.

“It can’t be ruled out that there is a connection between the vaccine and the very rare blood clot cases.”

A recent survey of 1,053 Danes suggests that, regardless of the result of these further tests, concerns about the vaccine are now widespread in Denmark. Far more Danes would decline to get an AstraZeneca Covid vaccine than would refuse to get a Covid jab altogether, showing that hesitancy is not simply the product of general vaccine scepticism. Reuters reports:

One in three Danes would decline to get a Covid shot using AstraZeneca’s vaccine, local media outlets TV 2 and Politiken reported late on Wednesday, citing a recent survey. …

The survey, conducted by Megafon among 1,053 persons, showed 33% of Danes would decline to get a shot with AstraZeneca’s vaccine. However, only 7% would decline regardless of which Covid vaccine they were offered.

The Sky News report is worth reading in full.

Lancet Paper Flagging Up Risk of Reinfection is Garbage

We’re publishing an original piece today by Mike Hearn, the former Google software engineer who is the author of this site’s most read piece. (He used to contribute under the name Sue Denim, but has since come out.) It’s a review of a recent paper in the Lancet purporting to show that 20% of Danes infected in Denmark’s first wave became reinfected in the second wave. As Mike reveals, this conclusion was based on assuming the false positive rate of the PCR test is much lower than the researchers had any reason to assume. Here are the first three paragraphs:

A recent paper in the Lancet claims that one in five people might not get immunity from being infected with COVID. The study is invalid. Although these sorts of problems have been seen before, this is a good opportunity to quickly recall why COVID science is in such dire straits.

The research has a straightforward goal: follow a population of Danish people who tested positive in Denmark’s first wave, and re-test them during the second wave to see if they became infected a second time. Denmark has a large free PCR testing programme so there is plenty of data to analyse. Out of 11,068 who tested positive in the first wave, 72 also tested positive during the second wave. This fact is used to advocate for vaccination of people who’ve already had COVID.

The obvious problem with this strategy is that false positives can cause apparent reinfection even when no such thing has happened. The paper doesn’t mention this possibility until page 7, where the entire topic is dismissed in a single sentence: “Some misclassifications by PCR tests might have occurred; however, the test used is believed to be highly accurate, with a sensitivity of 97·1% and specificity of 99·98%.” My curiosity was piqued by this figure because, as I’ve written about previously, at least as of June last year nobody knew what the false positive rate of COVID PCR testing is. The problem is circular logic: COVID is defined as having a positive test, therefore by definition it has no false positives, even though we know this cannot be true.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: The New York Times reports on a new study showing that eight months after infection most people who have recovered from coronavirus still have enough immune cells to fend off the virus and prevent illness. A slow rate of decline in the short term suggests that these cells may persist in the body for a very, very long time to come.