Copenhagen, Denmark – While many in Europe were concerned about the Delta variant, university student and social worker Sofie Mari Jensen joined tens of thousands of people at Copenhagen’s Parken Stadium to watch pop-rock band The Minds of 99.
The 9/11 event, a day after Denmark lifted all coronavirus restrictions, which is Europe’s first concert to host more than 50,000 people since the pandemic began.
No social distancing, masks, or vaccination certificates were required.
“It was full of people and it was euphoric,” Jensen told Al Jazeera.
COVID is no longer considered a “socially critical disease” in Denmark and now the small European country, home to some six million people, will live with the virus like the flu.
“It was incredibly amazing, I mean, I barely had time to watch the scene, I was too busy having a massive party with my friends, singing all the songs,” Jensen said.
“It was much more than a concert, it was a very thick line underneath the fact that the crown is gone,” he continued, adding with a smile, “at least for a while.”
The streets of Copenhagen are packed with people as people release their repressed desires to be outdoors, in different ways.
At a café, three old ladies taunt working hipsters as they ask for a seat next to their sticker laptops.
In a late-night bar, the atmosphere is jovial. Three men realize that they all share the same name and cheer up.
“It gives us some freedom: to be able to go out and socialize with your friends without a deadline when the fun ends. It’s just the feeling of freedom and opportunity, ”Jensen said.
Denmark’s new sense of freedom was based on its successful vaccination campaign.
“Ninety-six percent of people over the age of 50 are fully vaccinated,” said Lone Simonsen, professor of epidemiology and director of the PandemiX center at Roskilde University. “That means we have protected people at the highest risk of hospitalization or death, and so we can allow the pandemic to run its course, so to speak.”
Danes tend to trust health authorities and have been willing to get punctured, even those who were a bit hesitant about vaccinations.
“Those who were initially skeptical have seen the data, listened to the experts and politicians and have accepted. Only five percent of the population is strongly against the vaccine, while the rest trust that it is the best solution, really the only solution we have, ”said Simonsen.
When Denmark stopped using AstraZeneca entirely after reports of rare but deadly vaccine-related side effects, “it helped people feel confident about the safety of vaccines in national programs,” she said.
As of September 15, Danish health authorities had registered 353,451 cases and 2,617 deaths from coronavirus.
While vaccines are effective in protecting people against serious illnesses that can require hospitalization and death, they cannot stop the infection.
The more contagious Delta variant, for example, has seen vaccines in several countries.
People could still get sick, Simonsen said, but in most cases, the illness will be milder with fewer hospitalizations and deaths.
But as many have returned to their pre-pandemic routines, some have reservations.
“I don’t think Zoom classes are a long-term solution, but I would like people to think more about how diseases spread. I’m cautious about the people I sit with, in my study group we get tested regularly because we all have people in our ‘bubble’ that we shouldn’t infect, ”said Nadja Nielsen, a college student.
His father-in-law has cancer and has been hospitalized in intensive care several times, and his mother and brother are also at risk.
Nielsen is concerned that she may still infect them, despite being vaccinated.
“There are a lot of people at my university who cough and whine, showing little symptoms. We are having a wave of influenza right now and it has affected many people already. There is no control if you are sick, we saw it with the Danes who return home after international holidays and are knowingly infected, ”he said.
If another wave of coronavirus accelerates, Denmark is ready to return to restrictions, Simonsen said, especially if so-called “escape mutations” spark a resurgence.
But for now, Danes can go to bars, football matches, and concerts.
Looking back at the photos he took at the concert, which drew 52,000 people, Jensen found a picture of the dirty floor after the party, cups and other remains from the celebrations scattered generously.
“It was kind of funny the next day, drunk I thought it was a good movie. There was trash everywhere, it seemed crazy, but I think I realized how many people there were. It became so real when you see the things we left behind, ”he said.