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Last week in Sweden – a Corona summary (October 18 – 25, 2020)

Throughout the Coronavirus crisis, I’ve been summarizing on a weekly basis the most important and talked about happenings from a Swedish perspective. This is week 43.

(this summary is originally published in Swedish)

5,933 people have now died with covid-19 in Sweden; an increase of 15 deaths compared to last week. Even though numbers are still low, we’re now looking at a curve that tends toward a continuing upward trajectory:

The Swedish Public Health Agency has also noted a record number of tests during the most recently analyzed week; over 148,000 tests with 3.9 percent testing positive, meaning total infections have increased sharply by 31 percent compared to the previous week.

Figure 1A: Number of individuals per week, split into negative and confirmed positive cases for weeks 6 to 26; the number of tests split into negative and positive tests up to week 39, and negative and confirmed positive individuals from week 40. The graph shows the total number of completed tests and the number of positive (green) and negative (purple) tests.

During the week, the second highest ever daily total of confirmed cases was reached. This is, of course, because we are now testing to a much greater extent than in the spring, but the total was reached despite the fact that several of the hardest hit regions now reached maximum capacity in testing: Uppsala reported exactly that, and at least four other regions had their capacity halved during the week due to missed deliveries.

Daily confirmed cases in Sweden

The situation in Uppsala, Swedens fourth largest city, is becoming increasingly critical, and now stricter advice has been issued. After being hit hard for weeks, it was stated this week that Uppsala does not represent a cluster infection, but an increased social spread in the city. The whole of Uppsala’s intensive care unit is now fully occupied, with a total of nine patients with Covid infections. Many healthcare employees are worried and tired, but the chief physician in Uppsala has said the situation isn’t able to be compared with the pressure faced in the spring.
A number of new local advisories have been issued this week in Uppsala: the public is urged to only spend time with immediate family and avoid public transport.

Also in Skåne, Örebro, Östergötland and Stockholm, the increase in infection is particularly vigorous and the government has warned of more local restrictions if people do not take responsibility.

But despite the sharp increase in infections, there were also several unanticipated announcements from the government, in that the attendance limit for public gatherings is to be raised and restrictions for those over 70 are disappearing.

Attendance limits: for several months, discussions have taken place over whether to raise the limit for audiences from 50, and on Thursday the government announced that seated audiences may now comprise up to 300 people. This on the condition that a distance of at least one metre can be maintained between members of the audience for the duration of their visit. The government said it would trial the limit of 300, and that it can be lowered or increased depending on how it is handled. The culture and sports industries are happy, but they also warned that the increased limit doesn’t let them off the hook completely; most venues need full houses to be able to turn a profit.
The announcement and the increased limit came just a day before a large new international study was published, which stated that a ban on public events is the best measure against increased spread. State epidemiologist Anders Tegnell said he was not worried because the study was based on events where visitors do not maintain distance, and that the authority’s new rules require specific distance to be kept.

Restrictions for risk groups are to disappear: after months of hinting, news of updated recommendations for risk groups came on Thursday. Since March 16, risk groups and those over 70 have been urged to avoid physical contact to the extent that they were asked not to go to shops and buy food. All such recommendations have been lifted, and risk groups now receive the same recommendations as everyone else. A report from the Swedish Public Health Agency shows that recommendations for the elderly have saved at least 750 lives. The changes may lead to more people dying with Covid-19, says the Public Health Agency, but it is still worth it, because measures are needed that are sustainable to follow over time, which in turn will save lives. The relaxed measures have been met with cheers, but also disappointment that no further help or reward is set for the risk groups who have stayed at home for seven months.

The party’s over, said Prime Minister Stefan Löfven this week and explained that dance events for more than 50 people are now prohibited. It is not a recommendation, but a law where violations are punishable. The new decision comes after nightclubs abused both the trust they were given earlier in the year, as well as the rules themselves. Nightclubs lament the decision and think it is ”illogical”. Comedian Jacke Sjödin immediately made a music video about it:

The government wants to create a set of pandemic laws that will help relieve congestion, and congestion in particular has received a lot of attention this week. Many have shared their accounts of congestion on public transport in big cities, but also of how private and state train companies have not been helping customers maintain sufficient distance. Stockholm’s transport authority believes that they have done what they can, but will still restart ticket checks from next week. Gothenburg’s regional transport body has started to submit suggestions for walking routes when searching for a travel itinerary in their app. None of that seems to be enough, and so the government wants to introduce new laws to counteract congestion on trains, in shops and at bathing areas. There are no such applicable laws at present. The law will be introduced no earlier than next summer, but Minister of Health Lena Hallengren believes that we may not yet have reached the middle of the pandemic, and that it will therefore be a reasonable enough timetable.

This week’s news in brief:

  • Anyone claiming sickness benefit after eight days must now once again have a doctor’s note. This was announced by the Swedish Social Insurance Agency this week. During the spring, an exception to this rule was introduced with the aim of relieving the healthcare sector, but now the burden is not considered to be as great. The decision has been criticized by regions still under strain.
  • Denmark has once again closed its border with Sweden, but this time for people from the southern Swedish region of Skåne who do not work in Denmark. This is despite the fact that it was reported this week that Sweden and Denmark’s infection levels are at about the same level.
  • Two Swedish Hockey League teams have been hit hard by infection this week. In part Djurgården, but mainly Linköping, where over 20 players and leaders in the A-team have been infected.
  • A woman who was in the test group for a coronavirus vaccine died this week. She belonged to the group that received a placebo, and she was in no way exposed to a trial vaccine, yet several articles this week made insinuations that she was.
  • Swedes have made 1.4 million fewer visits to the dentist than usual, measured since March this year. Dentists are now worried about their patients, although it is unclear what effects the missed visits might have.
  • Fewer people than usual are seeking asylum in Sweden. Because of the restrictions on travel, Sweden now has its lowest figure in 20 years.

And finally:

State epidemiologist Anders Tegnell is said to be considering retirement in April next year, as he will then be 65 years old. According to a recent interview, however, he is quite clear that ”most people in this workplace continue to work (after 65), so maybe I will do the same”. In any case, the news caught plenty of attention and Sweden’s most influential internet personality, Lucas Simonsson, chose to make a song about it:

That’s all for this week. If you think something’s missing, leave a comment!

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This article is written under the CC-BY license, and is free to share and republish as long as you link back here.

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