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Last Week in Sweden: a Covid Report (December 13 – 20, 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 51 (December 13 – 20, 2020).

(This article was originally posted in Swedish)

7,993 people have now died with Covid-19 in Sweden; an increase of 479 reported deaths compared to last week. More people are now dying than usual in Sweden, and there has been so-called ‘excess mortality’ since week 47. The number of deaths with Covid-19 remains around 60 per day, according to Adam Altmejd’s updated graph (which now automatically updates with a more accurate forecast).

That we are now and have been on a plateau of around 70 deaths per day is also clear on state broadcaster SVT’s graphics showing a seven-day average:

Mortality trend over time – the diagram above shows the day on which the death occurred, irrespective of the day on which it was reported.

We don’t, however, see a plateau with regard to the spread of infection; in Gothenburg, for example, virus levels were discovered this week in the city’s wastewater that were 60 times higher than in the spring.

During the most recently reported full week, week 50, a record number of people (46,210) tested positive for Covid-19, an increase of 19 percent compared to last week. Testing capacity has once again reached its limit, and the number of people having taken tests therefore remained below the previous record. The proportion of positive results was, however, a record 17.1 percent out of 270,000 tested.

Number of confirmed cases of Covid-19 per week, split between testing among priority groups (shown in gray), and mass testing (purple).
Note: data does not include cases diagnosed from ’Sentinel monitoring’; a Swedish system in which a selection of doctors, surgeries and clinics sample patients with influenza-like illness or acute respiratory infection.

The burden on the healthcare system in Sweden is still enormous. ”I’ve been doing the work of three people, every shift”, ”sometimes I want to scream when I see how people are crowding”, medical staff have said.

Last week, the number of inpatients passed the spring peak, in terms of total occupancy, Stockholm excluded. This week, inpatient numbers passed the spring peak, even when including Stockholm. There are fewer intensive care cases now than in the spring, as we have become better at treating Covid patients. This improvement in treatment has also meant that mortality is not as high now as it was in the spring.

More positively, Stockholm seems to have reached a plateau in hospital occupancy. The capital is, however, also heavily burdened by other healthcare, hence the situation is also under pressure.

The spread of infection during autumn and winter has been worse than all of the Public Health Agency’s anticipated scenarios. It also means that Sweden is currently placing very highly when compared with many of the countries hardest hit by the virus. While other countries’ autumn peaks often came earlier, Sweden’s seems to have turned up later. Below is a graph from the Swedish Public Health Agency of the number of cases over 14 days, measured per 100,000 inhabitants, offering a comparison with other European countries.

At the same time, mortality seems to be significantly lower in Sweden.

Sweden’s King, Carl XVI Gustaf believes that Sweden has failed. ”We have a large number who have died and it is terrible,” the monarch told SVT this week when asked to comment on what disturbed him most about the pandemic. The statement has attracted a great deal of international attention. The Prime Minister commented that he agrees that the death toll is a failure.

During the week, the government has introduced a number of new, more intense measures. It started on Monday, when region-by-region recommendations were replaced by national ones. In connection with this, over 12 million text messages were sent to all of Sweden’s mobile phones. The message was presented during a press conference and the grandiose framing could perhaps have paved the way for the harsh criticism that followed. Criticism came partly because the message was perceived as lacking in content and partly because it didn’t include a link to more information. The criticism was almost universal, but this reporter thought the text message was reasonable and fulfilled its function. One in three people chose to visit state emergency preparedness resource Krisinformation.se as a result of the text message, with the site receiving a total of 3 million visits.

Further intensified restrictions were announced on Friday:

  • From Christmas Eve, the maximum number per table/per party in restaurants is reduced from 8 to 4 people, and alcohol cannot be served after 8pm.
  • Shops, shopping centers and gyms are asked to set a maximum number for how many people can be admitted to the premises, to avoid crowding. Non-compliant locations were told by the Prime Minister during a press conference that ”the government can close them”.
  • Upper secondary schools must continue remote learning until January 24.
  • Face masks are now recommended when riding public transport during periods when overcrowding is unavoidable.
  • More details on specific arrangements for masks on transit are due from the Swedish Public Health Agency no later than 7 January, when the recommendation will take effect.

At the same time, the Swedish Public Health Agency strongly urged retailers to refrain from offering festive season sales, in order to avoid potential for crowded shops. Swedish retail announced this week that they will not follow that recommendation, but will instead try to reduce crowding in other ways. Restaurant owners are also critical of the recommendations, which hit their businesses hard, insisting that they’re being asked to shoulder a heavier responsibility than other sectors, and without state support.

Sweden’s new pandemic legislation, designed to give the government a stronger mandate to act more broadly and evenly, could be brought into force as early as January.

The Corona Commission, which will review Sweden’s handling of the pandemic, published its first interim report this week. It states the country has seen gross failings in protection of the elderly and that the government bears heavy responsibility. Elderly care was completely unprepared for a pandemic, despite shortcomings being known for a long time. Opposition parties were quick to agree with the criticism. The National Board of Health and Welfare and the Public Health Agency both seem somewhat oblivious to their responsibilities.

A mutated variant of Covid-19 is currently spreading in the UK. The virus spreads 70 percent faster and has been spreading mainly in the southeast of England. The new variant has not yet been discovered in Sweden, but we can’t be certain that it is not already here. To reduce that risk, Sweden and several other countries have decided to stop travel from the UK.

Confidence in the Swedish Public Health Agency and state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell is on the decline, according to an Ipsos poll commissioned by national daily broadsheet Dagens Nyheter. Confidence is now at its lowest since the pandemic broke out, yet remains high overall. Tegnell has dropped from 72 percent in October, to 59 percent now, and the Public Health Agency has gone from 68 percent in October to 52 percent now.

The Swedish economy is performing relatively well. GDP increased during the third quarter by 4.9 percent. Such a strong upwards trend after losing a historic 8 percent during the second quarter is historically unparalleled, according to Statistics Sweden. The Finance Minister is satisfied and considers the Swedish economy strong, as we have been able to save for a number of years. We could even cope with another crisis next year.

This week’s news in brief:

  • Sweden can start vaccinating from December 27, according to the latest predictions, as the country is due to receive more doses than first expected. The first Swede has already taken the vaccine in the USA.
  • Rapid tests will now be used nationally. In such a case, you get an answer after 15 minutes. It is to be used primarily when testing healthcare personnel.
  • The WHO has issued a reassuring message ahead of Christmas: Santa Claus is Covid-immune and has an entry permit for all the countries he’ll be visiting.
  • The concert at Fiket in Burgsvik, Gotland, which led to all 30 present being infected, has now seen its first death.
  • FHM.se, an URL that in Swedish spells the initials of the Public Health Agency, has been sold to private individuals who paid SEK 59,000 to publish their own information about Covid-19. The Public Health Authority itself was not included in the bidding.

Finally:

I Enskede bor Martin som valde att julskylta utanför huset på ett sätt som fått båda sociala medier och traditionella medier att reagera och skriva. För exakt såhär känns väl julen 2020:

Martin lives in the Stockholm suburb of Enskede, and he’s decorated for Christmas outside his house in a way that made waves on both social media and traditional media. After all, this is exactly how Christmas 2020 feels:

That’s all for this week, let me know in the comments if you think there’s something missing!

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