Opinion | Denmark’s Hard Lessons About Trust and the Pandemic

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By Rebecca Adler-Nissen, Sune Lehmann and Andreas Roepstorff

The authors are Danish researchers for the HOPE Project, a study of how democracies cope with Covid-19.

Since mid-September, Denmark has tried living as if the pandemic was over. Schools and workplaces are open. Until Friday, you could go to a bar, a nightclub, a restaurant, a movie theater, the gym and sporting arenas without showing proof of vaccination. There was no social distancing or restrictions on large gatherings, even indoors. Face masks are rare in public spaces except airports. The Danish Health Authority’s website plays a rap video thanking all the Danes who are fully vaccinated, which includes 86 percent of people over age 12.

But just because the restrictions are mostly gone does not mean the disease is. Cases have increased rapidly since all restrictions were lifted in September, reaching about 2,600 new infections reported on average each day. There are now around 315 people hospitalized.

In response, the government has reintroduced its vaccine and immunity passport for venues with crowds of more than 200 people and for outdoor areas with over 2,000 people. Face masks may also return as winter approaches. More than 90 percent of Danes support the new measures, according to our survey.

But the future is uncertain. Trust — if maintained — could make a difference. Many countries will face problems similar to Denmark’s this winter. The country’s wins and missteps can serve as lessons in why transparency is critical for navigating through uncertainty.

Our continuing research, which includes over 400,000 questionnaires on Covid-19 behaviors and attitudes in Denmark, six other European countries and the United States, suggests that Denmark’s performance up to this point is due to three important factors.

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