Socialist Worker

Don’t use Denmark to justify a return to schools

The Tories claim Denmark shows it’s safe to reopen schools. Paul McGarr looks behind their spin

Issue No. 2706

A protest against an unsafe opening of schools in east London

A protest against an unsafe opening of schools in east London (Pic: Guy Smallman)


The government and media are using the experience in Denmark to argue for schools to reopen here.

“Schools have started to return in Denmark and have not seen a negative impact as a result,” said Tory education secretary Gavin Williamson.

He said this showed it is right to reopen schools to wider numbers of children in England from 1 June. 

But the situations in Denmark and Britain are not even remotely comparable. 

Denmark’s government acted much quicker and harder in response to coronavirus than Britain’s. 

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While tens of thousands of people here attended the Cheltenham horse racing festival and major football matches, Denmark locked down.

There has been far better testing in Denmark, and provision of personal protective equipment in hospitals and care homes.

As of Friday 22 May, 36,393 people had officially died from ­Covid-19 in Britain—and the real figures are much higher. 

Scaling for the size of the population that is 542 deaths per million—the fourth worst death rate in the world after Belgium, Italy and Spain.

In Denmark only 561 people had died from Covid-19 in total and the death rate per million of population is 97.

Every day since 2 May the number of deaths from Covid-19 in Denmark has been in single figures. 

In Britain, the number of deaths reported is still in three figures every day.

On 17 May there were zero new infections reported in Denmark. And on two recent days, there were zero deaths. 

Currently 

There are currently only 137 people in Danish hospitals diagnosed with Covid-19.

If the government wants to follow the Danish model, fine. Meet these kind of figures first and then let’s talk about a wider opening of schools.

The government in Denmark is far from perfect. 

But it has set up a National Test Centre and is already testing 10,000 people a day, with plans to step that up. 

Scaling for the size of the population that is equivalent to testing 120,000 people here every single day. Modelling was published before some businesses and schools started a limited reopening. It looked at various scenarios and their possible impact on the R reproduction number—how many people an infected person will infect. 

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When it came to schools, unions were a full part of the agreement. 

Not a single teacher has become infected in Denmark since the limited reopening.

At first R rose from around 0.5 to about 0.9, as predicted by the modelling. 

But it has now fallen for the last couple of weeks and is around 0.6.

The guidance that all schools must follow is very detailed and precise, and a far cry from the nonsense our government has published.

It covers regular handwashing—not just on entry, but on every change of room or following any close contact. 

All surfaces, tables, handles and equipment must be cleaned at least twice a day and anything that can’t be safely used is locked away.

As far as possible activities take place outdoors.

The recommended social distancing is six square metres per child for the youngest—nursery age—children and four square metres for older primary—reception/year 1—children.

What has happened in Denmark is a totally different picture to the situation we face in Britain.


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