David Heinemeier Hansson

January 26, 2022

A pandemic dispatch from Denmark

Next week, virtually all pandemic restrictions will be gone from Danish society. No mask mandates, no vaccine passports, no distancing, no limitations on bars, restaurants, or night clubs. This follows a determination by the government's pandemic council that the virus is no longer threat to the functioning of society, and thus no longer warrants broad, societal restrictions.

What's striking about this decision is that it's been taken against a backdrop of all-time record infection rates. In Copenhagen, the incident rate per 100,000 was 4,735 over the past seven days! The national positivity rate on the almost quarter of a million PCR tests performed every day is now 23%! The number of hospitalizations with covid is hovering at pandemic highs.

But the number of patients in the ICU because of Covid has been plummeting. An ever-growing share of those in the hospitals with Covid are not there because of Covid. And the infection rate between the vaccinated and unvaccinated is essentially the same.

Danes have taken well to the vaccine. 80% are fully vaccinated. About the same rate as you'd find in Rhode Island (78%) or Vermont (79%) or Maine (77%), and a bit more than you'd find in state like New York (73%).

That's mostly adults and older kids, though. A majority of Danish parents have still chosen, against the recommendation of the health authorities, not to vaccinate kids between 5 and 11. Just a third of kids in that group have been fully vaccinated.

Danish society chose mostly to keep schools open during the majority of the pandemic, too. Particularly for grades five and below. A few months of virtual schooling was all these young kids had to suffer through. They also never had to wear masks in school or try to parse their lessons through a mask on a teacher.

This all represents a very different path from how the pandemic has been handled in America. And I can't tell you how grateful I am for having been on the Danish side of the pond with three kids to live through much of it.

To live in a society that allows a debate broad enough to factor in the mental well-being of kids, their in-class/no-mask learning opportunities, and even dissent against official recommendations on vaccinations for young kids. Without any of that turning into a tribal fight.

A society that has largely rejected safetyism, and accepted that an open society will mean deaths and long Covid and other regrettable consequences. That we can't live in lockdown forever.

The institutional courage to back down from mandates and restrictions that made sense when we thought vaccines protected against spread, and to change the approach after the data now show it barely does.

The patience and restraint to give those who were offered a vaccine but declined a dignified way to continue to live, work, and interact in society. Without – beyond a few missteps – the endless, pointless, counterproductive shaming and ostracism we see in the US (and, sadly, in France, Australia, and elsewhere too).

No wonder plenty of Americans are now done with Covid on the terms of safetyism. That they too want what the Danes have had for quite a while, especially with regards to kids. A chance to accept the risks of omicron and go on living life.

About David Heinemeier Hansson

Made Basecamp and HEY for the underdogs as co-owner and CTO of 37signals. Created Ruby on Rails. Wrote REWORK, It Doesn't Have to Be Crazy at Work, and REMOTE. Won at Le Mans as a racing driver. Fought the big tech monopolies as an antitrust advocate. Invested in Danish startups.