Student life: COVID-19 closed a door and opened another

18 August 2021

Last spring, Christine Berntsen’s student life was turned upside down, as COVID-19 spread around the world. Christine studies Public Management and Social Development, and she was in China, when campus lockdowns became a reality, and Danish students returned to Denmark.

‘Looking back I feel lucky and privileged as COVID-19 provided me with exciting, professional opportunities, but that was certainly not how I saw it back then. I had just landed an internship at the Danish embassy in Beijing, and I am of course still annoyed that I had to wave goodbye to that experience,’ says Christine Berntsen.

Different countries, same instruments

Today she is writing her Master’s thesis while working in the Danish Ministry of Health. When the planned internship at the embassy was cancelled, Christine instead got her foot in the door at the Ministry, where she did her internship. The high vaccination rate in Denmark caught her interest, and she concluded the stay with a report about the public trust in government during COVID-19 in Denmark and China.

Before Christine Berntsen left China she experienced how the Chinese government handled the pandemic, and she found herself in her dorm room, reporting her temperature twice a day and informing the staff if she left her dorm area.

‘It seems quite authoritarian, but we just followed the plan from the government. Like people in Denmark did. What I found out in my report is that there is a high degree of public trust in both Denmark and China, and in both countries the population follow the government’s restrictions and advice. You do it another way in Denmark, but both governments have succeeded well. The healthcare systems have managed to have enough hospital

beds, the vaccination rates are high and the countries re-open,’ says Christina Berntsen.

She did a comparative study of the two countries and concluded among other things that the governments use the same instruments to keep public trust high. The governments do a lot of work to distinguish the political decisions from the health professional decisions.

‘For instance, they use the patients associations to validate decisions like the vaccination calendar and the priority of vaccination groups. For me it was valuable to work behind the scenes and see the interplay between the Ministry and the different authorities. Even though the political system in China is very different from the Danish, the instruments are very similar,’ says Christine Berntsen.

The Danish media coverage during COVID-19

During her internship, she had a strong focus on public trust in government and health experts from an inside perspective, but in her Master’s thesis Christine Berntsen is looking into the Danish media coverage of the pandemic. As an intern in the Department of Press and Communications, she noticed a change in the media coverage.

Last spring the coverage was almost solely objective, and the government’s decisions were rarely not questioned. But Christine Berntsen noticed a change in the public and it has been reflected in the media coverage. Today the media to a higher degree also covers the critical aspects.

Christine Berntsen is writing her thesis while working in the Danish Ministry of Health, where she was offered a job where she will help start up a new department for citizen requests. She is on a steep learning curve and has to balance job and Master’s thesis.

‘Due to COVID-19 it has been a hectic time, the pulse has been high and I am sure I have had opportunities out of the extraordinary for an intern working with policy making. However, I’m looking forward to have more time to work with the processes,’ says Christine Berntsen.

She expects to hand in her Master’s thesis in September.