COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Virtually nobody here wears a face mask on the street or inside shops and restaurants — a huge surprise. It’s almost as if the COVID-19 pandemic were a distant memory.
As soon as I left the Copenhagen airport and took a taxi to the city, the driver — who was not wearing a mask — told me that I didn’t need to wear one in Denmark. “It hasn’t been required for several months,” he said. When we entered the city, I noticed that, indeed, almost no one was wearing a mask.
In Denmark, 72% of the people have been fully vaccinated, as opposed to 51% in the United States, 31% in Argentina and 25% in Mexico. And by almost every standard, Denmark has done much better than the United States and most other countries in fighting the pandemic.
The cumulative number of COVID-19 deaths per million people in Denmark is of 442, compared with 1,904 in the United States, according to Oxford University’s Ourworldindata.org website.
In conversations with Danes from all walks of life, virtually all of them told me the same thing: Denmark has succeeded in its battle against COVID-19 because most of the population followed the advice of government officials and experts from the start.
In early 2020, when the government ordered a stringent lockdown, everybody complied. When the government asked people to get vaccinated, almost everyone did. Government officials say that most of those who didn’t get vaccinated were young people, who thought that COVID-19 posed no threat to them. Now, the government is launching a vaccination campaign in schools and colleges, aiming at a full vaccination rate of 90% of the population.
To enter the country, you need to show a negative COVID-19 test taken in the past 72 hours. Every time I went to a restaurant, I had to show proof of vaccination. But the government announced on Aug. 27 that this and all other domestic restrictions will expire on Sept. 10, because the pandemic is “under control.”
“We believe in authorities, we believe in experts,” Bertel Haarder, a member of Parliament and former education and culture minister, told me in an interview. “When experts tell us that we should get vaccinated, then the Danes have a tendency to get vaccinated.”
Gert Tinggaard Svendsen, a professor of comparative politics at Aarhus University and author of a book on trust, agrees.
“Here, people trust the government,” Svensen told me. “When the government told Danes that vaccines were good for you, people trusted the government.”
Compare this to the United States where, possible cultural differences aside, we had a president — Donald Trump — who, unlike Danish leaders, minimized the pandemic from the very start. In February 2020, when Danish officials announced they were about to order a national lockdown, Trump was saying that “It’s going to be just fine,” and “I’m not concerned at all.”
Worse, Trump didn’t set an example by wearing a mask in public, often mocked those who did and, at one point suggested that people should inject themselves with a disinfectant to fight COVID-19.
From then on, things in America only got worse. The Republican Party — with a few honorable exceptions — has abandoned common sense by following in Trump’s footsteps, fighting mask mandates and failing to actively campaign for mass vaccinations, hoping to hurt President Biden’s initially successful offensive against the virus.
That’s insane. It’s costing thousands of American lives — many more than those lost in Afghanistan, or any other war.
Let’s follow Denmark’s example. I’m not suggesting to put all our trust in our politicians, because we’ve had a bad experience with that. But we should follow what the consensus of the scientific community says: Get vaccinated, wear a mask, and keep your distance!
Don’t miss the “Oppenheimer Presenta” TV show on Sundays at 8 pm E.T. on CNN en Español.