Danish authorities are keeping close tabs on the spread of the new omicron coronavirus variant — and they don’t like what they see.
On Wednesday evening, Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said her country would tighten its virus control measures, reducing opening hours for bars, extending time out of the classroom for Danish school children and calling on workers to stay away from the office.
The Danish moves are noteworthy because the country of six million has emerged as something of a first mover in its response to the pandemic. An early adopter of tough lockdown measures, Denmark was also among the first European countries to begin reopening society. In mid-September, it became the first European nation to relax all its pandemic restrictions.
A regional hub of the pharmaceutical industry, Denmark has tested its population for coronavirus extensively since early in the pandemic and, along with the U.K., has high rates of virus sequencing, helping give it a clearer sight of emerging variants, including Delta, and now Omicron.
“We have been hit by a new coronavirus variant and it has spread extremely fast,” Frederiksen said of Omicron at a press briefing in Copenhagen. “We expect this to mean more infections, more sick people and potentially more hospitalizations … so we now need to do more.”
Frederiksen said her government aimed to avoid another lockdown.
“It is still our assessment that it is possible to keep large parts of Danish society open,” she said.
The infectiousness and severity of Omicron, which was first detected in South Africa last month, are currently being examined across the globe. Comments from Chief White House Medical Advisor Anthony Fauci this week suggested the new strain may be less severe than Delta, while early laboratory studies suggest it might be able to dodge some of the protection given by vaccines.
The Danish measures announced Wednesday mean that, from Friday, bars and restaurants must close at midnight and concerts with more than 50 standing attendees won’t be allowed.
Also, the coming school holidays will start early, on December 15.
The Danish announcement came as lockdown-shy Sweden also introduced restrictions — albeit milder ones — calling on people to work from home, keep at a distance in public places and wear a mask on public transport.
On Wednesday, Danish authorities said 6,629 new cases of COVID-19 had been identified — the highest daily rate yet — with 577 cases of Omicron. Hospitalizations were largely stable at 461.
Speaking alongside Frederiksen, Henrik Ullum, the head of the Danish state’s research center for infectious disease, known as SSI, said the situation was “extremely serious” and called the omicron variant “new and unpleasant.”
“Unpleasant because of its many mutations, and because of the way it has spread rapidly in the world,” he said.