Has Denmark perfected the art of lockdown?

The nation which gave the world the calmly cosy concept of hygge has approached the tethering of its civil liberties with all the composure and community cohesion that you might expect
The nation which gave the world the calmly cosy concept of hygge has approached the tethering of its civil liberties with all the composure and community cohesion that you might expect Credit: getty

It can be difficult to source glimmers of positivity from the news in these dark times - but if you glance across the map of Europe this afternoon, you might spot a couple of shiny needles in the corona-haystack where Denmark pushes its shoulder into the North Sea. Scandinavia’s most southerly country has been hugely pro-active in the fight against Covid-19 - it began to limit contact between its citizens as early as March 11 - and has made such a (relative - all things are relative at the moment) success of flattening its curve that it is considering loosening its social restrictions by the end of the Easter period.

“Over the past week, the number of hospital admissions has risen slightly slower than the week before - and without the explosion in numbers that we have seen in other countries,” prime minister Mette Frederiksen told the Danish public on Monday morning.

“If we, over the next two weeks across Easter, keep standing together by staying apart - and if the numbers remain stable for the next two weeks - then the government will begin a gradual, quiet and controlled opening of our society again, at the other side of Easter.”

If the Danish shutdown is pared back some time in mid-April, then there may be a very, very small tinge of regret to its having ended so soon - because the nation which gave the world the calmly cosy concept of hygge has approached the tethering of its civil liberties with all the composure and community cohesion that you might, stereotypically, expect.

A young family visiting a Copenhagen park this week Credit: getty

Certainly, there is a clear sense of civic organisation in the distancing measures put in place in open spaces. Denmark has not enforced as strict a lockdown as some other European countries - citizens who are not self-isolating are free to leave their homes. But, in a bid to avoid the sort of overcrowding at popular beauty spots seen in the likes of the UK and France in recent weekends, a one-way walking system has been introduced to guarantee adequate room between those taking exercise. Joggers and hikers must move clockwise around the lakeside trails of Copenhagen - and must fall similarly into step in capital-city green zones such as the King’s Garden (Kongens Have), the Sondermarken (literally “the Southern Field”), and the elongated beach strip that is Amager Strandpark.

Not everyone is obeying the rules Credit: getty

This is not to say there are no limitations - but a little inventiveness of thinking is finding a way around some of them. Denmark’s head of state, Queen Margrethe II, is due to turn 80 - no age to be taking unnecessary health risks in the middle of a pandemic - on April 16. But while all formal celebrations have been cancelled, a Facebook campaign has given light to the idea of the nation singing “happy birthday” to its monarch, separately but collectively, from its balconies and gardens, at 12pm (11am UK time) on the big day.

Then there are the brainwaves which make a real difference. Witness the commendable actions of Alchemist - a double Michelin-starred restaurant (also) in Copenhagen. Rather than complaining about the temporary collapse in demand for its 50-course tasting menus and “holistic cuisine”, it has turned its attentions - and the skills of its staff - into making meals for the capital’s homeless. Technically, JunkFood, the restaurant’s charity side-project, has existed for more than two years, having been started up by Alchemist’s co-owner Lars Seier Christensen in 2018. But, since March 18, it has become the gourmet eatery’s key focus, with head chef Rasmus Munk leading its charge.

“During 2019, we focused on slightly smaller projects, such as cooking and bringing food to [homeless organisation] Maendenes Hjem and their shelters,” Munk explains. “Due to the corona crisis and the restaurant’s temporary closure, I found that a great need among the homeless coincided with me having four empty kitchens, and time on my hands. The response has been amazing. We have a schedule for the next 20 days - with volunteers.”

If nothing else, those struggling with the pressures of this unexpected nightmare might admire the simple example of the two resourceful octogenarians who have not let the matter of an international frontier interrupt their conversations. Inga Rasmussen, aged 85, lives in Gallehus, five miles north of the Danish-German border; Karsten Tuchsen Hansen, aged 89, has a house in Suderlugum, a similar distance to the south. Ordinarily, there is nothing to keep them from meeting up - but with barriers currently blocking the road between the two countries, the duo have taken to meeting in the town of Aventoft, right on the faultline. There they sit, a couple of metres apart, on either side of the newly introduced fencing, and chat, over their respective servings of tea and cake (brought from home). “I’m otherwise always with Karsten,” Inga says. “It’s sad, but we can’t change it.”

The Sonderjylland region Credit: getty

The pair’s indefatigability is being held up as a sterling example of Danish-German co-operation in the midst of “Genforeningen 2020” - a year of festivities to mark the centenary of the return of the region in question (Sonderjylland - Southern Jutland) to Danish control, after it had spent much of the 19th century as the prize in an ongoing military tussle between the two nations. The commemorations have been somewhat undermined by the pandemic, but much as it has been in its response to Covid-19, Denmark seems largely undaunted by the situation. Indeed, it is even inviting locked-down tourists who might otherwise have paid it a visit this spring to “hop across” virtually, via a section of its tourist-board website (see visitdenmark.com/denmark/things-do/visit-denmark-from-home) which showcases the finest of the country’s art, food, music and wildlife - and recommends some of its feted “scandi-noir" crime dramas for evening streaming. This, you might bleakly joke, is a different approach to going viral.