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Thu 4 June 2020
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James Melville reports on Denmark’s effective response to COVID-19 — mass testing, an early lockdown, and no bailouts for companies in tax havens.

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“A man too busy to take care of his health is like a mechanic too busy to take care of his tools” – Danish proverb.

When Danish prime minister Mette Frederiksen told the citizens of Denmark they would be going into lockdown, the only other country in Europe to have done so was Italy, who had tragedy on its doorstep in the towns and villages of Lombardy which had already seen hundreds of Coronavirus deaths and more than 12,000 infections. In Denmark, at the point of lockdown, no one had died from the virus and the number confirmed to have contracted the virus was closer to 500.

When Denmark locked down on 11 March, they had identified 514 cases compared to the UK’s 456. In the six weeks since the lockdown, Denmark has suffered just 370 deaths and 7,695 cases. Compare and contrast to the UK. The UK did not enter lockdown until 23 March – 7 weeks after the first UK case was reported on 31st January. Since then, (as of 21 April) the UK has reported over 129,044 cases and over 17,000 hospital deaths.

It is also estimated by the Office of National Statistics that the UK has an additional 41% uplift in COVID-19 deaths when taking into account care homes and home deaths, taking the overall total deaths to an estimated 24,000.


Denmark, along with Greece, Austria, Singapore, South Korea, New Zealand, Norway, Vietnam, Finland, Australia and Czech Republic and Taiwan have managed to avoid being ravaged by the Coronavirus through a combination of planning and foresight, mass testing and tracing programmes and early lockdowns. The combined overall total of Coronavirus deaths in these countries are less than the weekly death rates in the UK.

The lesson from Denmark is this:- lockdown fast and therefore, unlock faster.

Denmark got ahead of the COVID-19 curve. Their Government responded by hitting the virus hard and crucially, by hitting it early. As a result, the transmission rate in Denmark has fallen to less than one new infection per case. Hospitals are yet to be overrun by patient demand, and are now reopening to non-critical patients suffering other health issues away from Coronavirus. Denmark has now lifted many lockdown restrictions and allowed therapists, beauty salons and hairdressers to reopen, having opened schools a week earlier.

Denmark are now continuing to progressively respond to keep the virus under control. They are now testing anyone with respiratory symptoms for coronavirus, with the country setting mass testing centres in tents in towns and cities right across the country. 

Denmark’s mass testing and tracing and low case and death rates mean that they are perfectly positioned to address any future creep of the virus, because their overall cases numbers have been suppressed to stay within manageably low levels. The UK however, because of a complete lack of early responding, allowed the virus to rapidly spread through the population and when combined with a lack of per capita testing, run the risk of not being in a position to effectively regulate any future spreads of the virus.

The lesson from Denmark is this:- lockdown fast and therefore, unlock faster. After becoming one of the first countries to shut down, Denmark is now one of the first countries to lift its social distancing and isolation restrictions – starting with reopening their primary schools last week. The gradual unlocking and reopening of Denmark is, like their entire approach to the pandemic, delivered with strategic thought, planning and foresight. 

Danish prime minister Mette Frederiksen stated that the unlocking of the county must be done with caution. “This will probably be a bit like walking the tightrope. If we stand still along the way we could fall and if we go too fast it can go wrong. Therefore, we must take one cautious step at a time.” 

The Danish government have also unveiled a set of financial bailout measures to support workers and businesses affected by the Coronavirus crisis. Denmark went even further though. They became the first country to refuse companies registered in offshore tax havens having any access to financial aid from their coronavirus bailout packages. This policy has subsequently also been adopted by Poland. 

Denmark has become one of the gold standard national responses to the Coronavirus. They acted fast. They had the foresight to deliver a consistent strategic response. They are already implementing gradual unlocking due to their low case and death rates. They are progressively holding businesses in offshore tax havens to account. 

On so many levels, Denmark successfully implemented a holistic approach to the Coronavirus that is putting the UK government’s shambolic, inconsistent, laissez faire response to shame.

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