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New infections and hospital admissions have surged in Sweden as the country battles a second wave of the coronavirus pandemic that officials had hoped its light-touch, anti-lockdown approach would mitigate.
“We consider the situation extremely serious,” the director of health and medical care services for Stockholm, Björn Eriksson, told the state broadcaster SVT this week. “We can expect noticeably more people needing hospital care over the coming weeks.”
Swedish hospitals were treating 1,004 patients for Covid-19, SVT said, an increase of 60% over the previous week’s 627. European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) data suggests the rise in recent weeks may be Europe’s fastest.
New infections are also surging, hitting a seven-day average of more than 4,000 this week against fewer than 500 at the beginning of October. The country recorded 4,635 new infections on Thursday.
Anders Tegnell, the country’s chief epidemiologist, told a press conference case numbers had shown “a pretty big increase last week” and would “certainly increase” again this week, although perhaps not by quite as much.
The prime minister, Stefan Löfven, however, warned on Wednesday that all indicators were “going in the wrong direction. The infection is spreading fast, and in the past week the number of people being treated in intensive care has more than doubled.”
Löfven said Sweden risked “more people getting sick, more people dying, more overworked people in the healthcare sector, more postponed operations … We need everybody to follow the recommendations. Every decision we take matters.”
On Wednesday the government announced it would ban the sale of alcohol in bars, restaurants and night clubs after 10pm from 20 November to the end of February, while Stockholm has banned visits to care homes with Gothenburg set to follow suit.
On Thursday Sweden added four more regions to the list of those making stricter local recommendations, in line with an approach that, since the start of the crisis, has been asking – rather than ordering – people to comply with health agency advice on physical distancing and hygiene.
Unlike other countries that have imposed (and re-imposed) strict lockdowns, shops, bars, restaurants and gyms, Sweden have kept similar facilities open throughout the epidemic while the wearing of face masks is still not officially recommended outside hospitals.
Tegnell has insisted the aim is to slow the virus enough for health services to cope – but has also repeatedly said he expected Sweden’s second wave to involve relatively fewer cases than countries that locked down because of an expected higher level of immunity.
But in fact, all studies carried out so far suggest immunity in and around Stockholm is significantly lower than the national health agency predicted. One in every five Covid-19 tests in the capital last week was positive, compared with 16% and 8.4% in previous weeks, the national news agency TT reported.
However, officials note that countries such as Spain and France that stemmed their first wave through tough mandatory measures have since also experienced dramatic second waves, which might suggest that Sweden’s decision not to lock down has not played a significant role in the recent surge in infections.
Since the start of the epidemic Sweden – which at one stage in June had Europe’s highest per-capita Covid-19 fatality rate – has confirmed 171,365 cases of Covid-19 infections and 6,122 deaths. Its death toll per capita is many times higher than its Nordic neighbours, but lower than countries such as Italy, Spain and the UK.
Lena Einhorn, a former virologist who is one of the fiercest critics of the country’s strategy, said whatever people outside Sweden thought would make little difference. “At first they said: ‘Wow, perhaps they are right,’” Einhorn told Deutsche Welle.
“Then there were more and more deaths in Sweden, and we became a monster; everyone thought Sweden was mad. Then in the summer, when there were fewer deaths, Sweden became a heaven on earth again,” she said.
“And finally when infections increased again in many countries in the autumn and there was opposition to new lockdowns, Sweden became the idol of libertarians. That’s no longer the case, now that cases are going up again in Sweden.”
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Covid infections in Sweden surge dashing hopes of herd immunity | World news