How did Denmark manage to lift restrictions against Covid?

Stadium packed in Copenhagen last week ahead of the home team's match against Israel in the World Cup qualifiers

Stadium packed in Copenhagen last week ahead of the home team’s match against Israel in the World Cup qualifiers| Photo: EFE/EPA/Mads Claus Rasmussen

On Friday (10), Denmark became the first country in the European Union to end the main restrictions to prevent the spread of Covid-19. With the end of the mandatory presentation of the anti-covid pass in nightclubs (a digital proof of vaccination), the Scandinavian country finalized a process that in previous weeks had already included the non-requirement of the pass in other types of establishments, the end of mandatory masks in public transport and the limit of participants in public meetings, among other flexibility.

The moving average of new cases in Denmark is below 500 per day and that of deaths is at three; 74% of the population has completed vaccination against Covid-19. Although the government has emphasized that stricter restrictions can be resumed if the numbers of infections and deaths rise significantly, life in the country is already practically of pre-pandemic normality, including soccer games and concerts with tens of thousands of people no masks in the audience.

“This could only be done because we have come a long way with the advance of vaccination, we have great epidemiological control and the entire Danish population has made an enormous effort to get us here”, declared Health Minister Magnus Heunicke.

According to a study in which more than 400,000 people in Denmark and seven other countries (United States, United Kingdom, Germany, Sweden, Italy, France and Hungary) were interviewed throughout the pandemic, the population of the Nordic country showed levels confidence in the vaccine superior to those of other respondents.

At various times in the study, the percentage of respondents who said they would agree to be vaccinated if called upon by health authorities was almost always above 80%, while in the United Kingdom, in second place, the level was always below this range – in the United States, in Hungary and France, the index fluctuated below 50%.

According to the researchers, transparent communication by the government contributed to this trust, even when the message was unpleasant, such as in moments of lockdown, and the incentive for there to be no polarization and witch hunts on the subject.

“The Danish government treated social distancing as a ‘moral’ project, which gained wide popular support. A moral project can go wrong, it can lead to blame and conflict. There have been discussions at this level in Denmark, but overall the blame in the country is relatively small. Most people simply followed the direction of the authorities and did not take on the responsibility of policing others,” said Michael Bang Petersen, professor of political science at the University of Aarhus, consultant to the Danish government and research coordinator.

“Support diminishes over time, and the speed of that depends on polarization. But the polarization was avoided because the Danish opposition prioritized epidemiological control over electoral gains”, added the professor, who believes that these elements should keep the country in a calmer situation in relation to other Europeans even if strict restrictions become necessary again : “Even with a third wave, mutual trust should be high enough for us to make it through.”