Denmark has become a standout sceptical hero of late, having lifted all restrictions at the start of the month and reclassified Covid as no longer “an infection critical to society”. The Government has even put out a fact check to counter misinformation about its approach – the right kind of fact check, countering actual misinformation.
The Danish shift in strategy was all the more remarkable in that it came at a time when reported infections and deaths in the country were at or close to an all-time high. Infections have since plateaued, underlining that it was the right move. However, given that the near-record deaths have come two years in and despite high levels of vaccination, it is worth digging into the data to see if there’s anything more they can tell us.
The first thing that stands out is how high hospital admissions are, though as the Government says, many of these will be incidental admissions or mild cases. In addition, while hospital admissions are much higher in Denmark than the U.K., the number of patients in hospital is around the same (see below, plus the admissions (above) appear to be peaking), which presumably reflects mild cases with short stays.
The second thing of note is that ICU patient numbers are right down since Omicron came along – as you would expect for a milder variant – and following the same trajectory as the U.K (see top chart). However, the big oddity is that deaths are rising steeply and even headed towards a new record. This is very different to the U.K., where deaths are headed down, and it prompts us to ask why. It is especially odd given that ICU patients are down so low, as it means the ratio of deaths to ICU patients is higher than ever. The Government has felt obliged to clarify that the criteria for admission to ICU has not changed. This means that either more Covid ICU patients are dying or more Covid patients are dying outside ICU. How many of the deaths are with Covid rather than from Covid is unclear, and this may be a factor. The Government points out that overall mortality was down to normal levels by the end of January (see below), so this suggests many of the Covid deaths are incidental or otherwise part of normal mortality – though be aware that the data for excess mortality is not yet available for the period covering the recent sharp rise in Covid deaths. The deaths-to-ICU-patients ratio in the U.K. is also currently very high, as ICU patients have come right down while deaths have stayed higher, though unlike in Denmark deaths are now headed down.