We have discussed the progression of the omicron variant of the Wuhan coronavirus in South Africa and the UK. However, the experience of Denmark might tell us more about what to expect as this new variant comes to predominate in the U.S.
Denmark is worth seriously considering because, like here and unlike South Africa, the vast majority of its population has been vaccinated. In addition, it’s my understanding that data from Denmark is considered very reliable.
What’s the news from Denmark? First, new reported cases are skyrocketing. In early November, Denmark was reporting about 2,000 new cases per day. By the end of the month, the number was up 5,000. (The numbers in this post come from Worldometer.)
By mid-month, new cases per day were coming in at around 8,000. A few days later, Denmark reported more than 11,000. For perspective, note that until the new variant hit, Denmark had never reported as many as 5,000 cases per day.
What about deaths attributed to the virus in Denmark? They have risen, but the numbers are small. In early November, before the spike in new cases, five or fewer people were dying per day from the virus in Denmark, according to the reported data. Now the daily count ranges from 12 to 15. It reached that level at the beginning of December and has held steady ever since.
Notably, this wave of covid hasn’t produced anything like the spike in deaths that occurred during Denmark’s last wave. Last year, Demark experienced an increase in cases between early November and mid-December from around 1,000 per day to around more than 4,000. (This suggests that the current spike is due in part to cold weather — not just the new variant.) This spike in cases brought the daily death count from five or fewer per day to around 40.
We’re not seeing that pattern this time around, at least not so far. Even though the new cases in Denmark are now around double their high from last December, the daily death count is approximately one-third of last year’s at this time.
Thus, the numbers from Denmark are consistent with what I tentatively took away from the numbers in South Africa and the UK. The new variant spreads very quickly, but is considerably less deadly than its two worst predecessors.
It’s important to note, however, that Denmark’s initial surge in new cases reportedly has occurred largely in the younger population. Accordingly, our conclusions from the Danish data regarding deadliness of the new variant should remain tentative.
It’s also worth noting that, according to the Washington Post, the current surge of cases in Denmark threatens to overwhelm the nation’s hospitals. Danish hospitals have never had more than 1,000 covid patients at any one time. But now, even moderate-case scenarios project that, by early January, hospitals will be receiving 500 new covid patients per day.
That’s a real and legitimate concern, of course. However, I found it significant that the Post’s article doesn’t mention any statistics pertaining to covid deaths in Denmark, such as the ones discussed above. This indicates to me that the Post’s article is biased in favor of alarmism.
One more point. According to the Post, early indications from Denmark are that people with two doses of vaccine seem to be just as vulnerable to omicron infection as the unvaccinated. However, those who have received boosters “have better protection.” How much better, the Post doesn’t say. However, it seems like a good idea for those who have been vaccinated but not yet boosted to get that third shot.