Sunday, November 08, 2020

Is Denmark about to export a more dangerous form of COVID-19?

Denmark is famous for its exports of cheese and pork. Less known is the country's role as the world's largest producer of mink skins and therefore, not surprisingly, the "global hub for the fur trade." Unfortunately for the minks and the mink industry, the Danish government has now pledged to kill every mink in Denmark is order to eradicate a mutant strain of COVID-19 carried by mink that is transmissible to humans. That would mean dispatching some 17 million animals in short order.

Why are the Danes so panicked? Because this mutant strain "is not readily stopped by antibodies to the dominant strain of the virus." That could mean that vaccines currently being developed for this dominant strain will be of little or no value in treating people with the mutant strain.

The number of human cases so far is small, 12 cases in workers on one farm.  It is worth remembering that on February 26 this year, President Trump told the public that there were only 15 cases in the United States, that drastic steps to contain the virus such as shutdowns were not yet necessary and that "15 [cases] within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero." By the end of March, much of the country was in a state of emergency as infections were skyrocketing. And even now, new daily infections in the United States are reaching new records as the long anticipated seasonal uptick in COVID-19 cases arrives.

The broader truth is that many, but not all, advanced countries were caught by surprise by the rapid advance of the virus. While the Danish response to the mink outbreak and its attendant human infections may seem extreme, such aggressive action is likely to be the only thing that will stop the mutant strain. The Danish government is also placing extraordinary restrictions on the residents of North Jutland where the outbreak occurred.

In June I wrote in "Our Conversation with a Coronavirus" that we humans were probably being far too optimistic about the possibilities for an effective vaccine. In that piece I said: "We will not learn how to live with the reality of a pandemic-prone world by simply assuming that an army of scientists and drug companies will keep us safe." I suggested that policies and lifestyles that lead to robust health for EVERYONE were the key to adapting to our pandemic-prone world. By definition the next pandemic will not come packaged with its own cure. Our best protection as individuals and as societies is good health.

We can wish the Danes success in their attempts to eradicate this mutant strain of COVID-19. But I do not think we can be assured that another such mutant strain won't arise elsewhere or that this strain hasn't already made its way beyond the Danish border.

As the worldwide pandemic lays bare all of the weaknesses of our modern way of life, we have an opportunity to rethink our relationship with the natural world. The first adjustment should be to accept that we are indeed a part of that world, that is, we are organisms in an environment just like every other organism.

Kurt Cobb is a freelance writer and communications consultant who writes frequently about energy and environment. His work has appeared in The Christian Science Monitor, Resilience, Common Dreams, Naked Capitalism, Le Monde Diplomatique,, OilVoice, TalkMarkets,, Business Insider and many other places. He is the author of an oil-themed novel entitled Prelude and has a widely followed blog called Resource Insights. He is currently a fellow of the Arthur Morgan Institute for Community Solutions. He can be contacted at


Ken Barrows said...

If there is one thing the last year of American electioneering demonstrated, it's that rethinking our relationship with the natural world is not a part of American politics. Repeat that for just about every other country in the world.

S. W. Lawrence said...

NYT article on 8Nov2020 entitled Covid Infections in Animals Prompt Scientific Concern. As mentioned, our unfavorite betacoronavirus "has shifted from humans to mink and back to humans, and has mutated in the process." Minks are the only animla known to have accomplished the leap in both directions, aside from the alleged bat source near Wuhan, China.
Famously, domestic cats + dogs have been infected by the virus, but not productively in terms of transmission to humans.
Ferrets + mink are the two best species for laboratory experimentation with this agent. Zoo tigers + monkeys, plus hamsters + genetically engineered mice are also susceptible. This is a pretty classic zoonosis, and what with climate change + people moving into the wildland interface, we need to be prepared for the next epidemics after ebola, zika, coronavirus. The only certainty is that there will be others.

sv koho said...

You are certainly correct commenting on the efficacy of vaccines. The Pfizer version haS BEEN CALLED THE VACCINE OF THE 1% because of what it is expected to cost. It is counter productive to have the largest drug companies in the world who don't request subsidies from their governments which impede their profits. It is way too early to know if vaccines will work long enough to be worth the cost and some like the Pfizer variety have enormous costs like freezers which work to almost 100 below zero. Notice that Pfizer is not providing the freezers. Paint me cynical and skeptical.