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Last Week in Sweden: a Covid Report (November 15 – 22, 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 47.

(This story was originally posted in Swedish)

6,406 people have now died with Covid-19 in Sweden; an increase of 242 reported deaths compared to last week. Not all reported mortality occurred during this week, but we’d have to go back to the first week of June to find a single week where a higher figure was reported. If we look at the forecast for later-reported deaths, this week should see around 40 deaths per day.

Sweden continues to break records in the number of tests per week as well as the number of infected. During the most recently reported full week – week 46 – a quarter of a million tests were taken for the first time, with 12.9 percent of them positive. This increase isn’t as sharp as we’ve seen previously, but that’s likely due to the testing capabilities of many regions having reached capacity. As a result, it’s difficult to know whether the leveling out we’ve seen this week in some regions is due to restrictions taking effect, or to a lack of testing capacity.

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.

That the situation remains severe is perhaps best depicted by hospital bed capacity. Sweden and Stockholm will soon be back up to April levels when it comes to the number of Covid patients hospitalized.

Graph: Number of occupied beds (left: Sweden including Stockholm, right: Sweden excluding Stockholm); X-axis: date/Y-axis: cases per day; teal: number in ICU/purple: inpatients.

Not least, we see a very worrying development in the country’s nursing homes: that which was never meant to happen seems to be happening again. Infections are briskly finding their way back up to spring levels.

Figure 3: number of cases in nursing homes per week.

This is all happening against the backdrop of the Swedish government having announced a unique decision: a maximum of 8 people may meet at public gatherings. Never before in modern Swedish history has freedom been restricted by law in this way. The law will be in force for at least four weeks, but many people immediately wondered what constitutes a ‘public gathering’. Here’s a Q&A in Swedish, but in short, it does not apply to workplaces, schools and professional sports, but does apply to public and religious meetings (although funerals can be attended by up to by 20 people). Swedish law does not allow for any particularly far-reaching restrictions on our freedom of assembly, and it’s difficult to stop people from spontaneously kicking around a football or to stop there being more than eight people in a shop or on a bus. Therefore, the Prime Minister focused instead on the law being ‘the new normal’: ”the norm now is to never gather in groups of more than eight, and to preferably only spend time with those you live with. Do not go to the gym, do not go to the library, do not invite people to dinner. Do not look for loopholes or excuses.” On Sunday evening, a televised speech to the nation contained the same message.

Despite this, new loopholes were found immediately. Partly among those keen to party at home, but also among restaurant and bar owners, who were disappointed with the new decree that came into force on Saturday: no alcohol service after 10pm. So some restaurants closed and reopened at 11pm serving food and low-alcohol beer, which remains legal.

The government’s new, tougher approach is in contrast to what we saw in the spring. Then, the Public Health Agency’s advice determined the approach. Now it appears more and more as though the government wants to set the tone – with or without the Agency’s support – which several media wrote about this week. The Agency, for example, does not think that restaurants are a driving force for the spread of infection, and on Monday the State Epidemiologist went on the radio and incorrectly stated that cinemas could continue to be open, despite the new limit on public gatherings. National daily tabloid Expressen has written a long piece, well worth a read, about this new political maneuvering, and how some anonymous government sources have painted a bleak picture of the future by suggesting that maybe a vaccine won’t help us.

Sweden has once again emerged as a hot topic across international media, with articles in Business Insider, the Washington Post and Le Monde among the most widely circulated. All of them focus on Sweden’s changed strategy, and whether we have succeeded or failed.

Vaccine. This week, a breakthrough was presented at another company. Moderna now has a vaccine that, just like Pfizer, works with over 90 percent efficacy. Sweden announced this week that they have now secured enough vaccine doses for the entire population. It is, however, estimated that it will take time to vaccinate everyone and many in Sweden remain skeptical about the vaccine and its possible side effects.

Face masks. This week, the mask debate has been stoked by the media interpreting a statement from the WHO as giving Sweden a direct call to implement the use of face masks. The WHO said to daily broadsheet Svenska Dagbladet, ”we advise all countries in situations where there is societal spread to consider the use of face masks”, particularly in enclosed environments where distancing is difficult. It also didn’t help that the influential Swedish Academy of Sciences recommended face masks, but the Swedish Public Health Agency continued to assert that there is not a strong enough basis in science to push a recommendation to wear them. This week also saw perhaps the largest study to date on face masks: in Denmark, 6,000 people were studied, and it was concluded that those wearing a mask were not protected to any great extent. “The best study that has been done is the Danish one, because it studies reality”, said Anders Tegnell to this blog.

Next week, Black Friday kicks off and the Minister of Trade and Industry this week appealed to shoppers to take it easy and keep their distance. Staff in shops are said to be worried about the overcrowding that may arise.

This week’s news in brief:

A ‘super spreader’ event took place in Gotland. During a concert in Burgsvik with a total of 31 people present, everyone fell ill, including staff and artists. Some were sent to hospital.

Low-income earners are at greater risk of dying from the Coronavirus, according to a new report. Income stands out as a stronger indicator of suffering severely, than chronic diseases and sex.

1,500 people may have received the wrong test results, it was reported this week. Those who received a negative result from a drive-in test were most likely to have been given an incorrect result.

Even children can suffer from long-term issues following a Covid infection. A new Swedish report examines five children who have all suffered with long-term fatigue. Others are now being warned of potential issues. This week it was also reported that a one-year-old is receiving treatment for Covid-19 in Skåne.

Nursing homes employing more hourly temps have shown higher rates of contagion, as evidenced in a survey by LO published this week.

Sweden has ranked bottom across several measurements in this week’s OECD report. Tegnell thinks the report is interesting, but lacks context.

A discussion is taking place over whether Sweden’s upper secondary schools may have to close. This is after older teenagers have been shown to be contagious, as well as their teachers.

Covid-19 was the third most common cause of death in the first half of the year, new statistics show. Heart disease and cancer were more deadly.

Finally:

My Coronavirus coverage was awarded this week with Swedish journalism’s most distinguished accolade: the Swedish Grand Prize for Journalism. I am extremely grateful for the award and the support you have shown me! Thanks again!

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Här ansvarar den som skriver kommentarer för sitt eget innehåll
  • Jenny @thebrickcastle november 23, 2020, 12:21

    I’m sorry I can’t reply in Swedish, but I wanted to comment and say it is great to find your blog. I do a very similar report for the UK – I feel like I found someone else whose life is consumed by COVID news! Well done on your journalism award 👏

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