Government Trust and Efficient Handling of the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Case Study of Denmark
Denmark: A small country but with one of the most efficient responses to the COVID-19 pandemic in the world.
“What I want to say here tonight will have major consequences for all Danes.” This is what Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said on 11th March 2020, when announcing that the country was shutting down and borders would be closed. A year later, a new statement from the Deloitte-Kraka collaboration Small Great Nation shows that Denmark is among the countries that have so far fared best during the pandemic, measured by coronavirus deaths and economic growth.
Denmark is the southernmost Scandinavian country, a prosperous and thriving nation of 5.8 million people. Its political system is a constitutional monarchy that combines its rich history and traditions with all the features of an extremely modern democratic state. By international standards, Denmark has one of the highest standards of living, and the gap between rich and poor is historically smaller than in many of the countries with which it is traditionally compared.
Denmark is seemingly doing well through the extensive coronavirus crisis compared to many other countries, and it could also be argued that the famous Danish labor market model has once again stood the test of time during a raging storm. The country’s renowned flexicurity model even kept unemployment below 7% during the financial crisis.
The Danish model is characterized by its particular combination of security and flexibility and could become a benchmark that skilled employees worldwide orient themselves towards.
The Danish labor market is based on trust, thinking independently, and taking responsibility regardless of job title and seniority. It is also a welfare system that ensures people are supported when they are vulnerable by a government they trust. This goes hand in hand with the Danish mentality of respect for each other and non-verbal social contracts. So, it is not surprising that the term “community spirit” was proclaimed the Danish word of the year in 2020.
Digitalization played an important role.
When the coronavirus crisis hit, thousands of Danes changed the office landscape from one day to the next by working from home. According to an analysis from Danish Industry, up to half a million Danes have managed to work from home during the crisis.
The famous Danish work-life balance and prioritizing family and leisure to ensure a healthy lifestyle has long been the main strength of the Danish labor market.
In the unexpected crisis, this made it possible for thousands of Danes to switch to work-from-home in just a few days and, at the same time, maintain a high level of productivity. This approach was very different from many parts of the world, where it took a while to understand that the home could be used as a productive office. Denmark, measured in terms of skills and infrastructure, is one of the most digital countries in Europe (and the world), which made this transition easier.
According to Statistics Denmark, 50% of employed Danes between the ages of 25 and 64 even stated that they worked from home via the internet at least once in 2018.
During the coronavirus pandemic, it became clear that a more old-fashioned work culture with a focus on the number of working hours generated in the office has been on the decline. After the worldwide coronavirus outbreak, there are not many employers, neither in Denmark nor globally, who would refuse a new employee who wanted to work from home at least one day a week.
In June, when the international magazine Monocle named Copenhagen as the city with the highest quality of life in the world for the fourth time, the reason given by the editor was that Copenhagen is one of the cities where there is a “real ambition to provide a better quality of life for all.”
The world’s best virus monitoring.
International media channels such as the New York Times, Reuters, and The Washington Post have reported on the Danish virus monitoring strategy. The unique Danish surveillance of the virus can predict how the infection will spread through society.
Foreign media have spotlighted the Danish handling of the coronavirus pandemic after researchers from Aalborg University and the Statens Serum Institut developed the world’s most complete monitoring of the virus.
“A massive virus sequencing effort has made it possible for Denmark, a country with 5.8 million inhabitants, to track the spread of new COVID-19 variants more closely than any other country in the world,” the article states.
The strategy has attracted attention because Danish researchers are among the only ones in the world who perform complete gene sequencing of all positive coronavirus samples. This gives the Danish authorities the world’s best overview of which variants are in circulation and how fast they are spreading. The other countries that have also started doing gene sequencing use it mostly as a reporting system. However, in Denmark, it is used proactively in calculations and modeling so that authorities have all the proper tools to make decisions and slow down the spread of infection.
Trust in the government and social heritage.
An important thing to understand about how Denmark was able to deal with the pandemic so effectively is the high level of trust in the government. Danish citizens do not believe in conspiracy theories or panic about the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and, most importantly, trust their government and politicians, as it’s implied that they work for the best of the nation. Another relevant point is Danish social heritage. Although Danes are friendly, they have always practiced more “social distancing” compared to other nations, where hugs and kisses are more common. When greeting each other in public, Danes keep that sort of physical contact to a minimum, and it is reserved for close friends and family. The opposite is true in, for example, southern European countries where physical interactions are normal. A third factor in why Danes handled the lockdowns better than other countries could be the Danish feeling of “hygge,” which is a concept that cannot be translated as a single word. It is a feeling of coziness and part of the Danish DNA and could explain those “hygge” moments when someone is indoors with candles lit, and it’s cold and rainy outside, but they’re still enjoying life. In other countries where the climate is warmer, and life is spent mostly outside the home, the lockdowns felt like being trapped, while the Danes were comfortable indoors with “hygge.”
Denmark removes all coronavirus restrictions.
On the 10th of September 2021, Denmark lifted all remaining coronavirus restrictions, making it the first EU country to get completely back to pre-pandemic daily life. On August 1st, 2021, the government lifted the COVID-19 pass requirements for indoor events with fewer than 500 people before soon removing it completely for major events. Recently, a sold-out concert in the capital of Copenhagen welcomed 50,000 people, a first in Europe and the world.
“The epidemic is under control; we have record high vaccination rates. Therefore, on September 10, we can drop some of the special rules we have had to introduce in the fight against COVID-19,” health minister Magnus Heunicke said. High levels of trust in society partly explain the country’s successful vaccine rollout.
The country of 5.8 million has so far fully vaccinated more than 75% of people aged 12 and over. Vulnerable people can now also get a booster shot.
The government was aiming for 90% of those over the age of 12 to have received at least one dose by October 1. By August 30th, it stated that 86% had.
The conclusion is, therefore, that not a single factor, but the sum of many different factors, has contributed to the effective management of the pandemic and is also why Denmark was the first country to remove all coronavirus restrictions.
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