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 1 of 2021 (January 3 – 10).
9,433 people have now died with Covid-19 in Sweden; an increase of 706 reported deaths compared to last week. This is the highest number of reported deaths since the start of the pandemic, with over 50 more cases than in mid-April 2020. There were also more reported deaths during this one week than Finland has reported during the entire pandemic (586). This record-high number is, however, a little misleading, as delayed reporting during the Christmas and New Year holidays has inflated the numbers. With that said, the situation is still extremely serious, and is at its most severe since the start of the pandemic. December 17, for example, seems to be the single day on which the virus claimed the most lives:
The holidays have made it difficult to draw conclusions about the exact situation right now. Delays in reporting statistics – together with the fact that healthcare facilities have had fewer days on which they’ve been open for testing – give a misleading picture. The number of people tested is, for example, 201,000: the lowest for several months. At the same time, the proportion testing positive is at a record high of 20.7 percent. A total of 41,686 new cases were confirmed during week 53 of 2020.
Perhaps the best measure of how things are right now is the number of inpatients being cared for in the health service, where we find both good and bad news. The bad news is that a record number of people are currently hospitalized with Covid-19 in Sweden: almost 3,000 patients. The good news is that Stockholm finally seems to have left its plateau and the number of patients is falling (as shown on the graph to the right). In the rest of Sweden, however, the situation remains dire. During the Christmas and New Year holidays, there have been 80 percent fewer planned surgeries than normal, as staff are needed for Covid patients. In Gothenburg, the number of intensive care patients at the Sahlgrenska hospital has tripled in three weeks. Skåne’s steep upward curve continues and children’s intensive care units are now completely full.
There is great concern about what will happen now that workplaces are reopening after the Christmas holidays. The Swedish Public Health Agency warns that the decisions we make now will be especially conclusive. Gothenburg’s infection control doctor has appealed to employers to investigate all possible measures to ensure employees can work from home. Upper secondary schools were recommended this week to continue with remote lessons until January 24, but several primary schools opened this week. The decision to either open or offer remote learning has been left up to the principal of each of these schools, an instruction that has been criticized for being unclear. There is, however, a clear decision that municipal upper secondary schools in Gothenburg and Skåne will offer their lessons remotely.
Sweden has now implemented extraordinary pandemic legislation, which gives the government far-reaching powers to shut down many parts of society. The law was voted through with a large parliamentary majority, and it will be in place temporarily from January 10 until September 30. The new law was met by almost no opposition at all, despite the fact that it is a uniquely comprehensive transfer of power from parliament to the government. Under the law, the government can move further than mere recommendations and instead force shops, public transport, parks and privately owned premises to close or limit their activities. This has not been legally possible before. Parliament will review each decision within seven days of its implementation. Johan Carlson, Director General of the Swedish Public Health Agency, is doubtful that shutdowns of the kind enabled by the new law will have any major effect.
All customers in shops must now have at least ten square meters at their disposal in the first restriction introduced by the pandemic legislation. This means that store owners must display clear signage to show how many customers are allowed to shop at any one time, and ensure compliance. This also applies to gyms, sports facilities and swimming baths. In addition, no more than eight people are allowed to take part in private gatherings in premises that are rented out for functions and events (private homes aren’t covered by the legislation). The restriction will take effect from January 10, and if it is not complied with, businesses can be issued with fines or risk closure.
Vaccine. Sweden had vaccinated at least 40,000 people by the beginning of the week. In the coming week, the Swedish Public Health Agency will issue continuous reports on how many people in Sweden have been vaccinated. The vaccination program is progressing according to plan, but despite this, several regions have kept back half of their assigned doses so that those vaccinated can be guaranteed their second dose. Since the Moderna vaccine was also approved by the EU this week, a good supply should now be assured. Next week, 100,000 doses will be delivered. How long the vaccine’s protection lasts is still unclear and varies depending on the manufacturer. 6-12 months is the guess and nobody will be allowed to choose a vaccine manufacturer because vaccines are in short supply. The vaccine primarily protects against the symptoms of the disease, but even those who’ve been vaccinated can still become infected and infect others.
Several regions wanted to prioritize vaccinations for healthcare staff ahead of risk groups, something which the Public Health Agency has now approved.
Dan Eliasson has resigned. Eliasson was Director General of The Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency which was created to lead Sweden in crisis situations. He vacationed in the Canary Islands during the most severe phase of pandemic at the time, and shortly afterwards sent out over 12 million text messages urging Swedes to follow authorities’ pandemic recommendations.
During the week, it was also revealed that Eliasson also visited the Canary Islands for another private trip during October and November. Public pressure eventually became too much, and Eliasson himself offered to resign his post. He is now being transferred to Government Offices where he will keep his salary, one of the highest in the government sector.
Several other politicians and directors-general have this week also been found to be violating the very recommendations they’re demanding their fellow citizens follow. National daily tabloid Expressen has mentioned three members of the opposition Moderate party who have since apologized, and Svenska Dagbladet scrutinized other directors general.
During 2020 in Sweden, a total of between six and seven thousand more people will have died than normal. I have continuously monitored the excess mortality rate over the course of the year on these pages, and the total summary for the year will be clearer during February.
This week’s news in brief:
- 75 percent of all people hospitalized with coronavirus still experience at least one symptom six months after their illness, according to a new Chinese study. The most common problems are fatigue and weakness in the body.
- 17 cases of the mutated virus strain from the UK have now been found in Sweden. Five of the cases aren’t able to be linked to inbound travel, but the claim continues that there is no societal spread of the new strain. Claims that the mutated virus is more contagious are still disputed.
- The recommendations for face masks on public transport have now come into force. It is only during rush hour and you can read more about it here.
- An employee at a dementia home in Karlstad went to work whilst ill, and infected half the staff. The person felt unwell, had taken a corona test, but had not yet received the result. The employee has now been fired.
- Many of Sweden’s ski resorts have been packed with visitors over the holidays. The resorts have shown zero tolerance for crowding together in breach of recommendations, which, amongst other things, resulted in the firing of 13 employees after they gathered in their free time to watch TV. The employees then reported the employer.
- Swedish singing star Pernilla Wahlgren has received harsh criticism for hogging hospital capacity in the already congested rural healthcare system on her trip to the mountains.
- Fears of an increase in the divorce rate during the pandemic seem to be so far unfounded according to new statistics which show that it didn’t increase at all.
- The high mortality rate in recent months has led several international media to offer some blunt criticism of Sweden’s strategy. Among other outlets, articles from The Guardian and a newspaper in Åland have had big breakthroughs this week.
In the run-up to Beach 2021, some have started wishing for a different type of body, according to this witty wordplay from @nattackera on Twitter:
That’s all for this week, let me know in the comments if you think there’s something missing!
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