The espresso machine of Johannes Nilsson, director of a Danish municipality, broke at the best possible time, the penultimate Sunday (28). The next day, his city became an “almost normal” post-pandemic laboratory for life with Covid-19.
Workshops, hairdressers, tattoo artists, massage therapists, beauticians, driving schools and other services interrupted since before Christmas all over Denmark – to contain the coronavirus infection and its British variant – have been allowed to reopen on Bornholm, an island of 40,000 inhabitants from the Baltic Sea.
While scientists have reiterated that the coronavirus will not go away, the “urban lab” will test whether well-done surveillance can be a tool to prevent transmission – and not just track the epidemic – and allow it to reopen, until ‘that vaccination poses a health risk to the world.
With a pace closer to that before Covid, it will also be easier to spot bottlenecks and resolve them before the national reopening. For example, the need for more school buses to allow the necessary distance on the way to school or the rescheduling of schedules to avoid clusters in offices.
Bornholm was considered the ideal location not only for its insularity (the country, after all, has 77 other inhabited islands, out of a total of 400), but also for presenting figures even better than the Danish average, one of the least affected by Covid-19 in Europe
Since the start of the pandemic, there have been 3,700 cases per 100,000 Danes – about half of those recorded in Sweden or neighboring Spain – and, by the end of February, new cases in Denmark had risen. at 9/100 000 per day; in Bornholm they were close to 1 in 100,000.
From Monday (1st), Gitte Olsen went to touch up the roots of her hair in the salon of her hairdresser Marianne. Lizzie Mauritsen cycled to the city’s mall to see the Store Torv store news, and Finn Berg made an appointment to finish the banner he started tattooing on his arm before giving birth.
However, Johannes Nilsson’s first action was not to bring his coffee maker to tech support or to trim his beard. “I scheduled a coronavirus test,” he says.
In order for businesses to remain open on the island, the downside is that the population takes at least one weekly exam. Anyone with a positive result will be isolated and their contacts will be tracked, contacted and tasked with quarantining them as well.
No one is required to take the tests, but a negative certificate will be essential both for boarding the ferry that takes you to the island (about 180 km south-east of Copenhagen) and for any service requiring a physical proximity.
In Bornholm’s new reality, the use of masks is still mandatory and bars and restaurants remain closed, but the number of people allowed for meetings has increased from five to ten.
To cope with the burden of testing, the city has increased its capacity to 5,000 per day. In the first week, more than half of the island’s residents showed up for testing, performing around 3,000 tests per day. Positive results remained at the previous level – between 0 and 1 per day.
After last weekend, however, two changes worried Nilsson. The first was an increase in the number of positives: on Tuesday five people found out they were infected on the same day.
“An increase was expected, because we are testing a lot more, and we are not an isolated bubble. But we want to be able to track the source of the infections and contain them, ”says the city administrator.
Completely preventing the coronavirus from entering the island is impossible because, although the shipment is only allowed for those who test negative, the traveler may have been infected upon leaving the laboratory.
If he follows Bornholm’s new guidelines, however, the weekly test will sound the alarm bells before the person becomes a hotbed of disease spread.
Nilsson’s second concern this week was the decline in his visit to testing centers. He has scheduled appointments to understand the problem and find solutions, but he assumes that the cause is the accommodation: “You have to go to the center, wait 15 or 30 minutes, have a cotton swab rubbed at the bottom of your body. nose … “.
From school banks, other relevant information will come from the test carried out on the island: studying how the transmission of the coronavirus occurs in the youngest. For students, the testing routine is different, explains the Bornholm administrator.
From the age of 12, they take two tests per week at school. Up to the age of 16, participation must be authorized by parents and is voluntary.
In high school and universities, the test certificate is a prerequisite for entering school, taking courses and taking exams.
As mayor for ten years, Nilsson was director of health before becoming the city’s chief executive in 2018. In the pandemic, he says, he has had to adapt to “challenges beyond imagination.”
The need showed the virtues of public administration, such as flexibility, but it also opened up gaps. “It has become clear how vulnerable cities are to global change. We must prepare for the future impacts on our living conditions. “
Long before that, in just three weeks, Nilsson will need his espresso machine at full steam to face the nine “city labs” test.
With a landscape that includes cliffs and unusual nature, Bornholm is known as “the most exotic island in the country” and, at Easter, is expected to receive around 20,000 visitors.
The influx equates to a 50% increase in the normal occupancy of its 588 km2 (slightly more than Guanabara Bay), and planning will need to be stepped up and care will be taken to maintain the newly gained freedom.
According to Danish standards, in order not to arouse the concerns of health authorities, the weekly rate of new cases per 100,000 population must be kept below 20 – which, in Bornholm’s case, equates to only 8.