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Denmark gives a glimpse of tough Covid-19 travel

Travellers

A Kenya Airways ground crew checks-in passengers at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi, on August 1, 2020. PHOTO | AFP

Between May and June Isaac Kinyua, a project officer at the Centre for the Multiparty Democracy, was one of 24 Kenyan participants from diverse professional backgrounds, to attend a learning programme on policy dialogue on the sustainable development goals (SDGs) in Denmark.

Being a time when the world is grappling with the Covid-19 pandemic, there were various rules applying to travel to Denmark.

His journey began on May 28.

And while still in Kenya, it was a requirement that he had to undergo a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) Covid-19 test valid for not more than 48 hours.

“I took mine at a centre in Nairobi. Travelling from Nairobi, our first stop was at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol in the Netherlands. We had to go through another test, and in less than one hour we got results,” he explains.

When they reached their destination in Copenhagen, they were required to go for a four-day mandatory isolation at the hostels where they were being hosted.

“Remember this was despite the fact that just a few hours earlier, we had tested negative in Amsterdam,” he says.

The isolation could end after obtaining a negative PCR test taken no earlier than the fourth day after entry.

On the fourth day, there was an arrangement for another Covid-19 test that was done in the rooms, where a negative result would then allow them to freely interact with the public.

“But even despite this, still the Covid-19 protocol of wearing masks, sanitising and maintaining social distance, had to be observed.”

According to him, foreigners who did not have permanent residence in, or a residence permit to, Denmark, had to be able to present a negative PCR test taken no more than 72 hours before the time of entry, or an antigen test taken no more than 48 hours before the time of entry.

“What’s interesting is that the Covid-19 test (PCR and rapid antigen) were free of charge for all foreigners including tourists, and one could show up at many test stations without an appointment. The test results were usually available the day after sampling and often the same day if you get the test done in the morning.”

The testing centre, he says, was mostly operated by very friendly young people.

“It was interesting how the whole process worked. You had to get a local SIM card, and obtain a CPR number, which was a combination of your birthdate, and four zeros, which signified that you are a foreigner. After testing, the results would be sent as an SMS via your local number, where the message contained a link and through it, you could download your corona certificate,” he says.

This certificate would help in accessing restaurants, offices and other public buildings.

“Failure to get this certificate, you could risk some hefty penalties, in case you came in contact with the authorities. In my case I never tested positive, but in case of a positive result, then one had to be isolated again,” Mr Kinyua notes.

On the last day of their stay in Denmark, he says, they underwent another PCR testing at the facility.

“On getting to Kastrup airport in Copenhagen, we were required to fill in the international travellers’ health surveillance form from the Kenyan Ministry of Health, and that was it,” he narrates.

Intensive testing

But this is just a small portion of the stringent measures the country had to impose in the fight against the disease. Since the pandemic hit, the country went through very tough restrictions, locking down the country for almost half a year.

“We had intensive testing which was one of our weapons against the pandemic. That also meant that as soon as someone got ill, it was quickly detected and you could do the isolation and make sure those infected didn’t spread it to others. This strategy has been one of the keys of how we were able to keep the disease at bay,” says the Danish Ambassador to Kenya, Ole Thonke.

According to Danish Minister for Development Cooperation and Nordic Cooperation, Flemming Møller Mortensen, apart from building an effective test capacity faster, the country also has a very efficient health data.

But it is the country’s intense vaccination campaign that has proven to be their best weapon in the fight against the pandemic. Right now, close to 75 percent of the Danish population is fully vaccinated which is almost 4.2 million people. Also, up to 90 percent of the high-risk population, have been vaccinated.

“As of September 1, all Covid 19 restrictions in Denmark have been lifted, despite the fact that there is still a 1.37 percent infection rate. Covid-19 is still there but the number of people in hospital and especially ICU is very low. Currently, in the whole of Denmark, only 147 people are admitted in hospitals and 13 in ICU as a result of Covid-19,” explains Mr Thonke.

But with the global skepticism surrounding the pandemic, as well as the vaccination, one would wonder how they managed to win public trust.

The ambassador says the degree of trust between the government of Denmark and its people is very high. Also, he adds, the level of trust between Danes and their scientists and science in general is also very high.

“So, when a vaccine is availed to the public, they know it has been completely investigated, it is safe, reliable and it works, and people don’t have issues taking it. This has highly contributed to the high uptake of the vaccine.”

It also has to do with sensitisation, according to Mr Mortensen.

“We have been doing a lot of sensitisation campaigns about the disease and the importance of vaccination, which gave the masses a sense of understanding about the situation. And with this, it became easier to make people understand the importance of taking these vaccines,” he adds.