David Heinemeier Hansson

February 10, 2022

After two weeks with no covid restrictions in Denmark

It's been a couple of weeks now without any form of covid restrictions in Denmark. The daily infection numbers have remained as high as they were when the restrictions were dropped, and the positivity rate for tests is still a staggering 30%. And yet, Danish society has simply moved on.

At our kids' school, it seems that virtually everyone has had omicron by now. With anecdotes ranging from no symptoms at all to the majority experiencing mild colds to a few with flu-like symptoms. The majority of teachers have now also been through an infection, so the churn of substitutes is basically over as well.

Danish health authorities are pretty excited about all of this. Omicron is basically heralded as a blessing. The ticket out of the pandemic. By infecting the majority of Danes, society will have that long-lasting natural immunity, and be much better prepared for a later, more virulent variant to emerge.

The official recommendation to vaccinate 6-11 year old kids is also being reconsidered. In just the last two weeks, at least one out of five kids in that age bracket have contracted omicron! New infections in our kids school have slowed to a trickle after that spike.

The Danish health authorities have also apologized for being slow to update the guidance regarding vaccines and infections. Now that it's clear that vaccinated and unvaccinated people contract the virus in equal proportion, the pro-vaccine argument is reduced to the fact that it offers good protection for adult individuals against serious illness.

The Danes are also having a bit of a laugh at the misreadings of the data by international commentators. While hospitalizations have indeed gone up, virtually all of the increase is amongst hospitalized-with-covid not hospitalizations-because-of-covid. ICU because-of-covid numbers have stayed stable throughout, and the increase in deaths is also largely attributable to dead-with-covid not dead-because-of-covid.

But despite this success, and the fact that Sweden and Greenland have also dropped their restrictions, it seems like many other countries are acting like they did when Italy got hit hard at the start: This isn't relevant to us!

And while there are surely some differences – Danes aren't as obese as Americans, say, and vaccination rates are higher than in some other places (DK is ~80%) – the world-class data gathering capacity should help others find their way out of restrictions too.

Danes have tested more for covid than any other nation in the world. And the facts that are emerging from that intense level of inquiry into the virus show clearly that omicron's spread is not mitigated by vaccinations, that the spread is unstoppable outside of extreme, draconian lockdowns, and that on a broad, societal level we no longer need to fear this variant to a degree that it dictates how we live.

I know that there's always a degree of national bias in these assessments, but so it's worth looking at the dissent. I've not spoken to a single parent, let alone heard of any in our circles, who oppose the fact that restrictions have been lifted. Everyone in our rather international community of expats here feel utterly privileged to have been living a country that never imposed masks for younger kids in school, and only had very brief, limited remote-school stints. Some are even going as far as to actively seek out infection, just to get it over with, if they haven't had it already!

That was almost the same reaction we had when our family got omicron. The kids picked it up from school, and we made no effort to quarantine from them. Partly because it seemed futile (omicron is just too infectious), partly because it was more convenient to get it over with. And it really was! With an attestation of natural immunity, you can travel freely within Europe for 5 months without a need for constant testing.

Contrast that with the furious frustration of many parents in the US, for example. Distraught and dismayed that kids are still forced to wear masks in school. Eat outside, socially distanced. Even after they're vaccinated! It's really sad to see.

Now things may of course change. Omicron may be replaced by something worse. The natural immunity afforded by previous infection might not be as effective against future variants. There are all sorts of possible futures, and the Danes seem suitably prepared to tackle those as they come. But in the mean time, they've chosen to react to The Science of today, and have stopped fearing omicron as a disease that requires society-wide restrictions, and get on with life.

At the fear of hubris, it seems the future of the pandemic is already here. It's just not evenly distributed.

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.