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Falling COVID-19 cases in Denmark, Norway attributed to vaccines

October 6, 2021 GMT

CLAIM: COVID-19 cases plummeted by 40 percent in Denmark and Norway after they removed restrictions implemented during the pandemic.

AP’S ASSESSMENT: Missing context. Medical experts in those countries attribute the decline in COVID-19 cases to high rates of vaccination. Furthermore, both countries have been gradually easing restrictions since early summer.

THE FACTS: Shortly after Denmark and Norway ended restrictions to curb the spread of COVID-19 in their respective countries, social media users began falsely equating a decrease in COVID-19 cases to the end of restrictions.

A tweet that was shared thousands of times reads, “One week after Denmark removed all restrictions, covid infections plummeted 40%. One week after Norway removed all restrictions, covid infections plummeted 40%.”

But restrictions were gradually phased out before fully being lifted on Sept.10 in Denmark and on Sept. 25 in Norway, in part due to high vaccination rates, and experts attribute the falling case counts to widespread vaccination. So far, both countries have reported that about 85 percent of their populations are fully vaccinated.

Denmark has been experiencing fluctuations in its COVID-19 numbers throughout the summer, due in part to the emergence of the highly contagious delta variant that caused a new wave of cases and vaccinations that slowed the spread, said Søren Riis Paludan, virologist and biomedicine professor at the Aarhus University in Denmark.

Paludan said the country had already been easing restrictions throughout the summer before Sept.10.

“Therefore, the claimed correlation between lifting restrictions and fall in COVID cases is simply not correct, and not based on sound evidence,” he said in an email. “The driver of the current success in DK is without any doubt the enormous compliance with the vaccine program with 75% of the total population being fully vaccinated, and more than 80% among people who have been offered the vaccines.”

Denmark was one of the first European nations to lift its domestic restrictions. Danish officials lifted a mask mandate for public transportation on Aug. 14, and removed limits on public gatherings on Sept. 1. Denmark also announced it would no longer be necessary to show proof of vaccination at nightclubs and restaurants. On Sept. 10, Denmark announced it would no longer label the virus as a “critical threat to society.”

Like Denmark, Norway lifted several restrictions throughout the summer before fully reopening on Sept. 25. Prime Minister Erna Solberg unveiled her four step plan for lifting COVID-19 restrictions in the spring.

“The last restrictions were lifted at 16:00 on Saturday September 25,” Preben Aavitsland, senior physician at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, said in an email. “At that time, however, there were not many restrictions left after several steps of removal of restrictions during the summer months.”

Before Norway ended restrictions, the country was experiencing a spike in cases in early September. Health officials said the spike was related to teenagers and young adults gathering before the start of school.

Since then, the country has seen a decline in COVID-19 case numbers.

“We believe the favourable situation is mainly due to the high vaccination coverage,” Aavitsland said.

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This story has been updated to correct when Norway experienced a spike in COVID-19 cases.

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This is part of AP’s effort to address widely shared misinformation, including work with outside companies and organizations to add factual context to misleading content that is circulating online. Learn more about fact-checking at AP.