England has been described by some as an outlier in that the government is lifting Plan B restrictions in spite of Covid infections remaining high – daily numbers are still higher than at any point prior to the emergence of the Omicron variant.
Some have even accused the Prime Minister of lifting the restrictions in order to divert attention from his political troubles. Yet Boris Johnson’s government is not alone. The Danish government, too, has announced that all remaining restrictions will be lifted on 1 February and Covid-19 will no longer be classified as a ‘socially critical disease’ in the country. In fact, Denmark is ahead of us in that the legal framework for the restrictions is also being lifted, removing the government’s power to impose any further measures. Britain is not due to reach that point until the end of March when the current six month extension to the emergency Covid powers expires (although it could yet be renewed).
The Danish decision is all the more remarkable in that it has come in spite of the emergence in the country of a newer, even more infectious Omicron variant – BA.2. According to the Danish Statens Serum Institute BA.2 accounted for 20 per cent of all Danish cases in the last week of December, rising to 45 per cent in the second week of January.
While BA.2 is more infectious than the original variant, it has not, however, shown itself to be any more virulent. Numbers of severe cases of Covid continue to fall as Omicron out-competes Delta.
The Danish experience ought to reassure government advisers in Britain, where BA.2 is also beginning to gain ground. According to an analysis by the University of East Anglia BA.2 accounted for between 5 and 6 per cent of Covid cases in England on 24 January.
While symptoms of people infected with the new sub-variant will need to be monitored, Denmark’s experience does not show any cause for delaying the lifting of Covid restrictions in England.
Denmark emerges from the pandemic with one of the best records of handling Covid in Europe. To date, its death rate stands at 628 per million, compared with 2,260 in the UK. In Europe only Cyprus (593), Finland (346) and Norway (262) have lower death rates.